Last week’s article about the game Elf Bowling really hit the sweet spot for a lot of folks. It’s a fun, maybe not groundbreaking game that is great to play for a few minutes—or based on your addiction level, a whole lot longer. (It should be remade for smartphones—the mechanics work really well for that medium.)
But by no means was the game, with its cheeky jokes, offbeat animation, and goofy concept, enough to carry a movie. But a potential franchise knows no limitations—and in 2007, after the Elf Bowling game had expanded from a single game to a modest franchise with an unauthorized Game Boy Advance version and even a 3D-rendered sequel, the inevitable animated movie came to life.
Around this time, a decade on from Pixar’s big feature-film debut with Toy Story, 3D animation had gone from novelty to requirement for film, and that meant the low-end animation houses were jumping onto the trend as well, trying to gain some of the mojo of Pixar, DreamWorks, and Disney.
While an array of successful studios emerged from this arms race to create new 3D-animated films, more common were the failures, such as the low-grossing 2008 film Delgo, which made less than $1 million on a budget of $40 million—the project of a small, independent studio that spent nearly a decade working on a film, a span so long that two of its voice actors had died before the movie was even released. (The long production process and independent streak behind the fantasy film was not forgiven by critics.)
Less famous but nearly as notorious is Elf Bowling the Movie: The Great North Pole Elf Strike, a movie with a budget so low that its animation is best compared not to any contemporary films, but to the automated YouTube films, targeted at kids, that drew a huge amount of negative attention a few months ago. Certainly, the Elf Bowling film has a human heart, but it clearly came from an outsourced place—which makes sense as the film was created on a for-hire basis by a South Korean animation studio.
The film’s plot is unusual, and makes one wonder if it was defined by the graphical options available, rather than the other way around. (If you don’t feel like having the film spoiled, please stop reading now.) The story tries to convince viewers that Santa Claus is a reformed pirate—a pirate who fell into the job after he and his pirate brother, Dingle, get booted from their ship and are frozen into two solid blocks of ice. The brothers then float to the North Pole, where a band of toy-making elves realize that Santa is the white-beard they’ve been waiting for.
(Santa keeps up morale—essential to keep toy-making moving—through the playing of Elf Bowling, of course.)
Santa eventually reforms into an upstanding member of society, but Dingle—who used Santa’s success as a cover for his own antics—eventually grows jealous of his brother and schemes to take that success away with the help of his penguin henchmen who constantly get slapped around a bit by large trout. In the process, everyone somehow ends up in Fiji, with some of the inevitable “adult” humor occasionally taking up uncomfortable racial or sexual overtones in the process.
While the film is by no means great, the film’s jokes do occasionally connect in subtle ways. Some of the wackiness evokes animated sitcoms of the ’90s, which makes sense as both the film’s writer, Martin Olson, and some of the stars (particularly the husband-and-wife team of Tom Kenney and Jill Talley, both Mr. Show alums who have become popular voice actors) are better known for fare like Rocko’s Modern Life and Spongebob Squarepants.
However, the talent is attached to a concept that was already quite bizarre, that feels like it has to be randomly plugged into the film every 10 minutes or so just so everyone knows why they’re watching the movie. And the logic of the film is often questionable—if we already know Dingle is known to cheat at Elf Bowling, why does Santa bank his entire holiday empire on an Elf Bowling duel more than once?
But when it comes down to it, Elf Bowling the film potentially could have worked had it used the same animation style the original game did—that is, a personality-heavy 2D style of animation that was unfortunately discarded for most Hollywood films around the turn of the 21st century. But everything was redone, poorly, in a 3D-animated style that doesn’t look as good as even Pixar’s animated shorts from the late 1980s, let alone the big-budget films that this movie was competing against. It simply looks ugly, even half-baked.
All in all, Elf Bowling the Movie: The Great North Pole Elf Strike doesn’t show up in IMDB’s Bottom 100 due to a lack of reviews—but something tells me that if more people knew about it, it’d probably be there.