‘Spirited’- Film Review: A Decent Christmas Musical?

With two comedic all-stars, Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, starring in the latest Apple TV+ movie Spirited, how is it possible there haven’t worked together? Of course, they were in Dick, but it was bound to happen sooner than later for huge names in entertainment like them. But as much as I enjoy watching these two (besides the noticeable flops in their respective work), any excitement for this musical re-telling of the timeless Charles Dickens’ tale A Christmas Carol wasn’t reaching. I love Christmas movies because I’m not a cynic, but once you see one adaptation of the story, you’ve basically seen them all. Nothing will ever touch Scrooged. On paper, it sounds like a disaster. But to my surprise, this Sean Anders-directed feature isn’t a crowning achievement or anything, yet it was a primarily good watch. 

Every year around Christmas Eve, a team of afterlife spirits finds one person they could redeem with the help of the ghosts of Christmas Past Sunita Mani), Present (Ferrell), and Yet-to-Come (voiced by Tracy Morgan). For the current Christmas Present, he’s been eligible for retirement for 46 seasons and can’t decide if he’s ready to live an everyday life back on Earth. As they search for their latest” perp,” they stumble upon media consultant Clint Briggs (Reynolds), who needs more help in his life than he expected. Though Jacob Marley (Patrick Page) believes he’s a very “unredeemable” candidate, Present thinks he has what it takes to show someone they’re capable of change.

The surprising thing that hooked me with Spirited was the twist it took on the story where it’s expected to be cliche, but it has a clever way of how the operation produces the yearly visits like it’s the behind-the-scenes on a television series. There’s research on the person in question and detailed locations to showcase the life of the “perp” like Cliff over a single night. It’s actually a cool and refreshing take to make for a fun time. Take a turn in having a perspective shift to the character of Present and what he was like before he became who he is. Can it lead to predictable outcomes? At times, but it doesn’t make the film entirely perfect. For a comedy, the jokes ranged from hit-or-miss, especially when the script calls to be self-aware of what kind of movie setting they’re in. With Andreas and co-writer John Morris, they do offer an important question about whether people are willing to become a person of change over a single night. Realistically, no.

And some will be shocked to find out this is another musical on our hands. Was it the best choice to make this one too? It didn’t need to be, as it could’ve been fine as a comedy. The songs, written by award-winning due Benji Pasek & Justin Paul (who I don’t get the hate for), don’t have the staying power of their other work, and the first half hour was messy in how it couldn’t take a break from them, one song almost every five minutes. They got better after a while when the musical numbers themselves were bombastic with some impressive choreography to make them pop. However, there were two songs I consider the best from the soundtrack: “Good Afternoon,” a piece telling folks to “bite me” in the 1800s, and “Do a Little Good” near the end that I listened to a few times now. I quietly want to see it be considered for a Best Original Song nomination.

Ferrell and Reynolds make for a good duo as you learn these two have more in common than they initially thought. They do little to change the fact they play the same character, but you’ll get over that when Clint’s past is journeyed through. You’ll also notice very quickly they aren’t the most trained singers or dancers, but they get credit for trying their best with the music being performed. Fun fact: Both starred in popular Christmas movies with Ferrell in Elf and Reynolds in Just Friends. Octavia Spencer is always a joy to watch as she plays Kimberly, Clint’s assistant who Present gets romantically involved with once she can see him, and their on-screen chemistry was cute in their scenes. She has a song or two that worked for me.

Pushing aside some fake green screen background shots, this was well-directed by Andreas, whose only film I really enjoyed was Instant Family; everything else is trash. It could’ve had a shorter runtime, as it sometimes tends to drag. And just when I thought it was about to wrap up, it just kept going when it didn’t need to. And it has a couple of dark turns that don’t mesh with the tone. But while it’s easy to suspect Spirited won’t be the next classic to watch over the holidays, it’ll be pleasing for anybody who enjoys the aspects of bringing this together. It was good I saw it at home instead of in theaters, especially after discovering this was the recent Monday Mystery Movie from Regal.

In the end, Spirited wasn’t too bad for a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol. It can overstay its welcome and the cool plot can be messy from time to time, but thanks to the relationship between Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds and some catchy songs, there’s some charm to be had.

Grade: [B-]

Spirited is now streaming exclusively on Apple TV+| Runtime: 127 Minutes| Rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material and thematic elements| Studio: Apple Studios

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