Will Ferrell may be the star here, but the ''Saturday Night Live'' alum is still a fan at heart. ''Working with all these actors was the highlight by far,'' he says of his 55 days on ''Elf'''s Vancouver and New York City sets. ''Between James Caan and Bob Newhart and Ed Asner...it was just fun to watch.'' Ferrell's hoping the same can be said of his first solo-starring role, in which his sweet-natured toy maker -- a full-size human who had accidentally been stowed away with Santa (Asner) as a baby -- journeys from the North Pole to Manhattan. In New York, he befriends a department-store elf (Zooey Deschanel), tracks down his real dad (Caan, whose character, not surprisingly, is on the naughty list), and saves Christmas along the way. (Think ''The Grinch'' meets ''Crocodile Dundee.'')
''Part of the goal is to create a very nostalgic-feeling Christmas movie,'' says director Jon Favreau. To wit, the ''Swingers'' vet eschewed digital effects in exchange for a timeworn technique -- forced perspective -- to create the illusion of Ferrell towering over his diminutive chums (like Gandalf in ''The Lord of the Rings''). ''I wanted to use all the old-fashioned methods [to make 'Elf' look like] the movies and stop-motion TV specials we grew up with,'' says Favreau, who also cameos as a doctor. Put simply, he shot his star next to small props, while those playing Santa's little helpers were placed next to bigger ones. That approach made for a tall order for the prop department. Notes Favreau: ''There were two of everything.''
Adding to the fun was the movie's veteran troupe, including 73-year-old Newhart, who plays Ferrell's surrogate pint-size papa. ''When we were between scenes, we just told stories,'' Newhart recalls. ''I finally said to Jon, 'You've got to get me out of the movie because I've run out of anecdotes!''' Speaking of which, what kind of stories can Ferrell tell about getting in character to play an elf? ''I approached things with a slight hint of Peter Sellers in 'Being There,''' he says. Oh, and ''I ate lots of candy canes.''
The Killer Moment High jinks ensue when Ferrell goes mano a mano with a Christmas tree.