Spirited (Review) – A Musical With More Hums Than Humbug

DIRECTOR: Sean Anders

CAST: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani, Tracy Morgan, Patrick Page, Aimee Carrero, Joe Tippett, Marlow Barkley, Jen Tullock, P. J. Byrne

RUNNING TIME: 127 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: The Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) meets his match with his latest haunt (Reynolds)…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Year after year after year, there seems to be a new version of A Christmas Carol that ends up being made and released, despite practically everyone in the entire solar system by this point knowing the story inside and out. It’s therefore made much harder for such an oft-adapted tale to be done in a fresh and invigorating new way (and let’s face facts: nobody will ever outdo the Muppets’ version), but Spirited is the first version in a while to actually feel unique, all while still staying true to the plot beats and morals that are known the universe over.

From director and co-writer Sean Anders, the film is told from the perspective of the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell), who – along with fellow Ghosts of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani) and Yet To Come (Tracy Morgan) – partake in the annual tradition of haunting a mean soul into kindness in time for the big day, an operation that is run like a tight-knit production studio. Their latest target is Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), a successful but morally dubious PR guru who’s been labelled an “unredeemable”, in that he’s all but beyond saving, even by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. Present, however, remains determined to change his haunt for the better, but quickly comes to find that Clint is far savvier and less willing to change than he ever could have imagined, and soon the tables are turned as Present takes a look back on his own past to determine what kind of present and future he wants to lead.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s also a musical? Yes, with songs written by La La Land and The Greatest Showman lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the characters of Spirited frequently burst into big and lavish musical numbers like it’s a big Broadway production – and honestly, at first, it’s a major reason why the film doesn’t immediately work. The songs that make up most of the first act are piled on incessantly, going from one scene to the next with hardly a break in between them, which leaves the viewer with little time to absorb the music and lyrics, not to mention this interesting concept that’s being drowned out by the non-stop singing. The songs themselves are fine, and certainly retain the upbeat mood and tone from Pasek and Paul’s playlist for The Greatest Showman, but they struggle to feel as memorable as the tracks in that film because there’s not enough space being given to let them play out naturally here. For most of this first act, you do find yourself struggling to get on board with what it’s trying to do, because it’s leaning far too heavily into one element when it should be focusing on several others, which does make it feel like a bit of a mess.

However, once the second act kicks in, the film manages to get its act together. The songs become far less frequent, and when they do pop up they’re a lot more memorable because there’s enough time between them for you to bank them into your memory. On top of that, it really puts a strong focus on the intriguing set-up as well as on its characters, who are very enjoyable to watch because they feel much more developed and interesting. Will Ferrell is really good here, dialling down his usual shouty schtick to better emphasise his character’s genuinely likeable nature, which makes some later reveals about their past much more surprising and attention-grabbing; he has a strong rapport with Ryan Reynolds, who by this point has mastered the smarmy wise-cracking type to where he could play a role like this in his subconscious, and has some really lovely romantic chemistry with Octavia Spencer, who is essentially the Bob Cratchit to Reynolds’ Scrooge. As in Elf, Ferrell brings to life a winning Christmas protagonist who’s easy to root for, consistently funny, and with an infectious childlike joy for most things, which often makes for some very heartfelt moments.

It is a very likeable film overall, one that has a good amount of fun playing with the expectations and the structure of the classic Charles Dickens story, while also paying its own tribute to them and their timeless appeal throughout the years. If it were tighter on its musical numbers, though, and a lot more focused on the more essential materials like plot and character – especially in that first act – then Spirited could genuinely have been a potential new festive classic; as is, it’s an enjoyable enough movie, and certainly worth recommending for its upbeat energy and committed lead performers, but it is too often stumped by its own ambitions, and initially struggles to find its footing at that crucial junction.

If you’re looking for something other than just the same old Christmas Carol rendition, however, then Spirited is the closest in a long while – possibly not since Scrooged back in 1988 – that the old story has felt fresh, exciting, and even new all over again.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Spirited is a mostly enjoyable musical spin on the classic story of A Christmas Carol, which at its best contains some fun sequences and genuinely heartfelt performances, but is too often hindered by an overly busy set-up that favours big and bombastic song-and-dance numbers over proper story and character development, which makes it a bit of a mess, but not enough to put off most audiences looking for a fresh and new take on a familiar festive favourite.

Spirited will be streaming exclusively on Apple TV+ from Friday 18th November 2022.

It will also be showing in select cinemas nationwide.

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