DDecember is a wonderful time of year for many reasons, not least because it brings an influx of movie-related press releases that seem determined to crush the joy of everyone’s favorite Christmas movies with the brute force of a uncontrolled capitalism.
There’s one circulating right now, about the movie Elf. Elf is, of course, a touching and heartfelt comedy about family, belonging and the magic of belief. But not according to Skills Trading Group, which just sent an email summarizing the film’s plot to a concrete amount of cold hard cash that Buddy the Elf would have earned if it had been real.
The release carefully goes over each basic task of a traditional Christmas elf and assigns it a monetary value in the form of an hourly wage. So, for example, designing and making toys for a living will currently earn you £24.61 an hour, while sorting Santa’s mail in a warehouse earns £12.61 an hour. Other tasks include being a stable hand for the reindeer (£10.01), being both a baker (£11.12) and a candy maker (£9) and being a sleigh mechanic (£19.71) . Therefore, taking all of these tasks into account, an elf can expect to earn an hourly wage of £14.46. Better yet, thanks to a prodigious work ethic that allows them to work 18 hours a day, a Christmas elf can expect to earn an annual salary of £94,348.80.
And better yet, it gives us a figure to cross-reference with the website Santatracker.net, which estimates that Santa currently employs 110,000 elves, all on salaries around three times the UK average. Assuming each elf works all year round to prepare for Christmas, this means Santa has an annual wage liability of over £10 billion. We can obviously expect this figure to decline in the near future, as the sophistication of AI improves and much of the workforce is thrown into the scrap heap.
But it’s about Elf. And, it must be said, this study takes enormous liberties with the fundamental truth of Elf, namely that Buddy the Elf was not an Elf at all. He was a human who was accidentally raised as an elf, and so his productivity would be unlikely to match that of a biological elf. Indeed, the film’s first clip shows Buddy struggling valiantly to complete even a fraction of the elves’ core output. If the Skills Trading Group figures were even vaguely linked to performance, it stands to reason that Buddy wouldn’t earn anywhere near £94,348.80.
Nonetheless, Santa is a kind and egalitarian man, so perhaps £94,348.80 is the flat rate he pays the elves, regardless of the quality of their work. This doesn’t seem like a particularly effective method of managing payroll, because without proper financial motivation, the elves would slowly turn into producing the worst worker, putting the whole Christmas at risk. However, Santa Claus is like Santa Claus, and that should not be questioned.
Coming back, Will Ferrell was 36 when Elf came out, so we can assume Buddy was the same age. A Reddit thread I just looked at suggested that elves don’t become physically mature until they are around 20 years old. This means that, realistically, Buddy had earned a total of £1,509,580 by the time he left the North Pole to venture out in search of his biological father. Based on their arrangements in the film, as well as the lack of retail opportunities, it seems that the cost of living in Santa’s workshop would be remarkably cheap, so Buddy may well have kept most of of this money upon his arrival in New York.
Now here’s where things get interesting. Buddy’s father, Walter, was a children’s book editor by trade, a role which, according to the Payscale website, comes with an average salary of £80,000. And that means Buddy the Elf would earn significantly more than his father.
With that in mind, maybe we’ve been wrong about Elf all these years. Maybe Elf isn’t really a touching, heartfelt comedy about family, belonging, and the magic of belief after all. Perhaps this is a cold, hard message about the relentless power of cash. Perhaps it’s a chilling fable about making more money than your parents, so you can taunt them with all your material possessions. Perhaps this reminds us that family is nothing and wealth is everything. Yes that’s it. Thank you, Skills Trading Group! Merry Christmas!