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Review: Spirited (Apple TV+)

November 18, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Spirited is far from the first adaptation of A Christmas Carol, let alone the first comedic or musical one. But the film, which serves as a full-on reimagining of the Charles Dickens story done as a modern musical complete with Broadway-style songs by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hanson, La La Land), has a genuine earnestness that makes it surprisingly enjoyable.

Directed by Sean Anders (Daddy’s Home, Instant Family), Spirited imagines the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Will Ferrell), Present (Sunita Mani) and Yet to Come (voice of Tracey Morgan) as part of a year-round operation finding subjects to haunt into repentance on Christmas Eve, rehearsing all year for their big show.

In a break with tradition, Ferrell’s Ghost of Christmas Present is the main character here. After over forty Christmases in the role, time is coming for him to retire from his job in the spiritual realm. He’s compelled to stick around due to the prospect of potentially changing an “unredeemable” client; corrupt, sarcastic consultant Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), who digs up dirt on others in order to help his corporate and political clients. But in a turning of the tables, Clint forces the ghost to re-examine his own life, as he starts to develop feelings for Clint’s assistant Kimberly (Octavia Spencer, a standout of the supporting cast).

From here, Spirited mostly follows the basic, well-known beats of the Dickens story, while also adding a few of its own twists to it, including a sardonic sense of humour, and some deeper social commentary on the dark side of cancel culture. In taking this story and reimagining it for more modern sensibilities, we get a film that equally takes its cues from the Albert Finney musical Scrooge as it does the Bill Murray satire Scrooged.

Anders, who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Morris, struggles a bit at times to balance the tone between self-aware comedy and more dramatic moments (though when the film does go to its darkest places it is surprisingly effective). It’s also admittedly a little long at over two hours. But Spirited works more often than not as, well, a spirited piece of holiday entertainment. The main draw of the film is the comedic chemistry between Ferrell and Reynolds. The film plays to each of their strengths as it allows them to playfully bounce off each other, and they attack these roles with an appealing earnestness as they throw themselves into performing the big song-and-dance numbers.

It’s a film that actually at times feels like it would have played just as well on the stage, with the feel of a go-for-broke theatre production where everyone is simply giving it their all and having a good time. The songs by Pasek and Paul are catchy and fun, including main standout “That Christmas Morning Feelin’,” and they are matched by flashy production numbers. It’s a bit of an uneven ride in places, and you could nitpick certain aspects, but I was almost completely won over by Spirited in the end. It delivers exactly what you want as a fun, slightly cheesy, and appropriately heartfelt Christmas musical.

Spirited is now available to stream exclusively on Apple TV+.

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