Spirited (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – A musical version of Charles Dickens’s story of a miserly misanthrope who is taken on a magical journey.

My Take – If there is one source material that has been milked in every possible way, it has to be writer Charles Dickens‘s novella ‘A Christmas Carol’. Over decades the redemption tale, which was first published about 178 years ago, has seen countless adaptations, featuring Bill Murray, a traumatizing CGI Jim Carrey, animations, live action, musicals, miniseries, multiples theatrical performances and even in the form of Muppets, all delivering their own direct or twisted version of the story.

However, what immediately makes this Apple TV+ release stand apart is not that it is just told from the perspective of the ghosts, but also sees Will Ferrell returns to the holiday film genre in a bold new musical fashion, while also managing to bring Ryan Reynolds along for the ride. Resulting in 127 minutes of something that is totally unique, spectacularly fun and a welcome entry to the slate of Christmas films.

Directed and co-written by Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2, Instant Family) with songs from the La La Land (2016) team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the film certainly has a big, Broadway-tinged feel, despite being led by two people not primarily known for their song-and-dance moves, and offers a smart twist on a very familiar tale by adding the kind of humor one would expect from a Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell project to the setting. While there are plenty of Meta jokes about it being another adaptation, on one occasion, it even widens the scope for Ferrell to offer a very funny self-deprecating Elf (2003) gag.

Yes, while the story may seem predictable, but the film also brings in many delightful twists and turns, especially in the story of Ghost of Christmas Present to stand apart. Plus, the inclusion of a performer like Octavia Spencer immediately elevates the film beyond your average adaptation.

The story follows the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell), one of the most essential ghosts at the afterlife office, who along with his co-workers the Ghost of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (voiced by Tracy Morgan) handles the haunting of a particular person, selected by Jacob Marley (Patrick Page), every Christmas Eve, in the hopes that they’ll change their ways. After successfully getting one nightmare neighbor called Karen (Rose Byrne) to change her ways, the department of holiday haunts sets its sights on next year’s perpetrator.

However, Present has another person in mind – Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds). Deemed unreedeemable, Clint is a ghoulish public relations opportunist, fake-outrage instigator and runs a company that specialized in creating online scandals. Clint is a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge who even stoops as low as to encourage his young niece, Wren (Marlow Barkley), to run a smear campaign in her student election.

Going through his own personal turmoil, Present is determined to make Clint see the errors of this way, and convinces the others to follow him. Soon enough the pair are zipping through formative moments in Clint’s life, singing and dancing all the way, thus wrecking a precisely planned haunt and putting a whole lot of innocent souls on the line.

Without a doubt, this one is a jolly Christmas offering. Backed by nice tunes, good choreography, a heartwarming feel, and some good laughs, director Sean Anders, who co-wrote the script with John Morris, has gone for a down-the-line Christmas film with a touch of raunchy humor and is entirely successful in that, despite some obvious slightly clumsy execution. The film even offers a twist that gives a friendly nod to the source material.

It has the feel of everyone being professional but, at the same time, not taking things too seriously. For instance, Judi Dench has a cameo and, immediately afterwards, Ferrell and Reynolds break character questioning her presence. There are also jokes about product placement, pandemics, and endless adaptations of A Christmas Carol. The switching of traditional roles is a neat touch in the third act, too, as Clint turns the tables to shepherd Present through his own past.

However, the most surprising element of the film is how moving it manages to be when all the pieces are in place. Sure, some parts of the narrative don’t make much sense, but this isn’t the type of film where little things like continuity and logic matter. Yes, the singing is questionable but I respect the hard work of these non-singers and the effort that clearly went into dubbing them into sounding credible.

Both Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are on song-writing duties here, though you won’t find anything quite as catchy as ‘City of Stars’ from La La Land here, the tunes come thick and fast and are easy hum-along. And the dance sequences are filled with life and energy enough to sell the lengthy digressions into tap and Broadway nonsense. It is clearly supposed to be an entertaining, if overly-stuffed, romp with a silly story and fans of both Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds will very likely love it.

Unsurprisingly, Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds make for a watchable and charismatic leading duo, even if their singing might not be winning any awards. They are perhaps not surprisingly more adept with the comedy than the singing and energetically choreographed dance numbers, though they’re perfectly adequate on that score, and seem to be having a grand time doing it.

It’s refreshing to see Ferrell back in holly jolly mode again. The wistfulness and longing in this character give a genuine quality to his energetic, desperate for the joke side and that goes a long way toward making his performance entertaining. Though Reynolds’s well tested charm means it’s hard to ever really buy him as a cold-hearted villain, his approach to being a massive jerk provides a strong arc for the character, even as it is a supremely predictable arc.

In supporting roles, Octavia Spencer, Patrick Page, Sunita Mani, Joe Tippett, Marlow Barkley, Aimee Carrero and Jen Tullock are terrific. Tracy Morgan and Rose Byrne provide excellent laughs. On the whole, ‘Spirited’ is an utterly charming musical that delivers goofy old-fashioned Christmas musical fun.

Directed – ,

Starring – Ryan Reynolds, Will Ferrell, Octavia Spencer

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 127 minutes

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