I feel like there’s no need for a question today, because if you simply read what Spirited is about, it’ll pop into your head automatically. We follow the Ghost of Christmas Present (played here by Will Ferrell) who takes on the challenge of haunting an “unredeemable” human soul, a manipulative businessman played by Ryan Reynolds who is “dogmatically committed to the idea that people never change.”
|Image courtesy of Apple TV+|
Say it with me: do we really need another retelling of A Christmas Carol? It’s a classic story that everyone knows the major beats to, even (sometimes especially) if they’ve never read the source material. But Spirited practices what it preaches and presents a promisingly original take on Dickens’ novella, utilizing the proven comedic talents of its leads and (wait for it) transforming the tale into a vibrant musical.
Directed by Sean Anders (he of Daddy’s Home and That’s My Boy fame), Spirited is a beast I was not expecting to encounter this holiday season. It’s a unique enough take on the original story to get my attention, and continued to surprise me with its novel ideas and delightfully silly concepts. Maybe this is what the Christmas Carol sub-genre needed to climb out of its shallow grave and re-join the rest of film society, reinvigorated with fresh purpose.
In the world of Spirited, Jacob Marley (Patrick Page) has founded a complex agency of ghosts who, every year, haunt a despicable soul Scrooge-style in an effort to make them change their ways. These days, most of their “clients” are Karens, but their success rate remains high. Alongside Ferrell as Present, the primary ghosts are the excitable Past (Mr. Robot’s Sunita Mani) and the ominous but friendly Yet to Come (physically played by Loren G. Woods but voiced by 30 Rock’s Tracy Morgan). Despite being eligible for retirement for nearly fifty years, Present chooses Clint Briggs (Reynolds) as the subject of the next haunt, despite Briggs’ dreaded status as an “Unredeemable,” a person so bad that bothering to haunt them would be fruitless. Nevertheless, it’s a task that Present takes on, before finding that he and Clint have more in common than he initially thought.
Not only is the music catchy and fun, it’s also mostly diegetic. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who are on fire these days in terms of new and exciting projects (not only did they work on the big-screen adaptation of their musical Dear Evan Hansen, but they wrote the songs for Lyle Lyle Crocodile as well as the upcoming live-action rendition of Snow White), are on songwriting duties, and their record remains squeaky clean. I wasn’t in love with the songs at first, but they grew on me, and I’ve found myself going back to the soundtrack more often than not.
In writing this overview, I’m finding my thoughts far more positive than I initially expected them to be (even more so than they were as the credits were rolling), and I think part of that comes from the fact that Spirited is just plain fun, even if it isn’t high art. I do think part of it is that Spirited was a fantastic Christmas palate cleanser after Netflix’s Falling for Christmas, but I really did thoroughly enjoy the work that Spirited does in elevating the classic Christmas formula. It maintains those values while testing the limits of what a “family” Christmas movie can be, and has the budget and star power to make that goal a reality.
Not only is this a reinvention of A Christmas Carol, but the original story exists in the universe of Spirited, leading to many a hilarious dialogue exchange. And say what you will about the original Christmas Carol, but it’s very straightforward and has perhaps the most archetypal character arc in literature history (which makes perfect sense…it revolutionized the very concept of character arcs). Spirited takes that logic and expands it, updating it for the modern era and reinventing the story for a new era and an impressionable new generation.
Spirited is streaming on Apple TV+.