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We Finally Know What Will Ferrell Was Really Eating On Elf

"Elf," the 2003 comedy holiday film directed by Jon Favreau and written by David Berenbaum, is arguably one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. Will Ferrell stars as Buddy the Elf, a human who, as a young baby, crawls into Santa's gift bag while Santa is delivering gifts to his orphanage. When the baby is discovered at the North Pole, elves take him in and raise him as one of their own. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) even acts as his adoptive father, further confusing the boy about his origins. As Buddy gets older, he discovers he has a human father who is, horrifyingly, on the naughty list and lives in New York City. He sets out in search of his biological parent, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), and, while in the city, he experiences a bit of a culture shock adjusting to non-elf life.

Because Buddy is raised as an elf, his eating habits are quite different than the average human. In one scene (via YouTube), he describes to Walter the four essential food groups for North Pole elves — "candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup" — before he eats syrup-drenched spaghetti. Throughout the film, Buddy eats a lot of food combinations that the average person would find hard to stomach; he even eats cotton balls he finds in a doctor's office. Luckily, Ferrell didn't have to eat cotton while filming — we know what he was really eating instead.

The cotton balls Buddy the Elf eats are really cotton candy

In one memorable "Elf" scene, Walter (James Caan) takes Buddy (Will Ferrell) to see a doctor friend of his (director Jon Favreau, in a small role) to get a paternity test done to find out if Buddy is really his son. While there, an excited Buddy spots a jar of cotton balls in the exam room and starts eating a bunch of them, despite Walter trying to get him to stop. After the test, he holds a cotton ball to his finger to stop any bleeding — and then eventually pops that one into this mouth, too.

Luckily, Ferrell didn't have to eat actual cotton balls while filming these scenes. It was revealed in a 2020 E! article about fun "Elf" behind-the-scenes facts that the cotton balls in this scene were actually cotton candy. The cotton candy "cotton balls" appear white on screen because they hadn't been dyed a more vibrant color, as is often the case. Ferrell confirmed the cotton balls were cotton candy in a 2003 interview with Black Film, too. In the interview, the actor even joked he ate "a few bushels" of the fake doctor's office essential.

The "Elf" star did, however, eat all of the candy we see his character consuming throughout the movie. This includes Buddy the Elf's stomach-churning spaghetti breakfast, complete with various candy, chocolate syrup, maple syrup, and broken-up Pop-Tarts. The actor spoke to The Sun about his commitment to the role, stating, "I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie, and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will – if that's what the job calls for."