Brash, colorful, frenetic, and joyful, the Will Ferrell/Ryan Reynolds Christmas movie mashup Spirited most assuredly lives up to its title.
Positioned as the next irreverent take on Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” Apple Films has crafted what could very well be Holiday Classic #2 for Mr. Ferrell.
While the trailer makes the Sean Anders-directed musical comedy look like a remake of “Scrooged,” this effervescent twist on the classic tale opens with a look at how the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come choose whom they will haunt each Christmas, and the corporate way in which they go about that fulfilling that task in the afterlife.
It’s a clever switcheroo that gives the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) a front-and-center role as the spirit who wants to retire and become human. He longs to find love, have a family, and find a different purpose. But, alas, Jacob Marley (Hadestown’s Patrick Page) has other plans for him.
When the crew decides on an awful Hotel Manager as their next target, Present feels like there’s someone in more need of their help: Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds). A spin doctor, Reynolds is a misanthrope making people’s lives miserable all to make a buck. While Marley thinks Briggs is unredeemable, Present has faith and convinces Marley to let him try. Except, things aren’t so easy.
Briggs is truly a hopeless case, and his reluctance to change causes Present to rethink his own future as well. A future that he hopes might include Brigg’s research assistant Kimberly, beautifully played (and sung) by Octavia Spencer. Because… did I mention this is a balls-to-the-wall musical?
With songs written by the dream team of Pasek and Paul (The Greatest Showman, Dear Evan Hansen, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile), Spirited soars with its musical numbers, which are not only catchy but choreographed to perfection by Chloe Arnold. From Spencer’s lovely ballad “The View From Here” to the raucous, hilarious “Good Afternoon,” every musical number is a treat. But even more, the film knows how some people feel about musicals, so as much as they embrace the razzle-dazzle of it all, they occasionally mock it at the same time.
At over two hours long, this Ferrel/Reynolds holiday confection does feel a tad overlong and a bit all over the place in its themes and plot. At the same time, this truly feels like an instant classic. It’s a shame it’s not getting a full-on theatrical release because it begs to be seen in a theater. Not only for the music and fanciful sets and costumes but to have a doubled-over laugh with the rest of the audience.
Because yes, this is a comedy through and through, and it’s a hilarious one at that.
Ferrell does his usual earnest schtick here, but it works. And to be honest, I’ve missed this sort of charm from him. Reynolds does his usual schtick too, but add in the singing and the dancing, and you see a new side to his talent. Then there’s Spencer. Who knew she could sing? She’s delightful here, and her chemistry with Ferrell is adorable.
Sean Anders (Instant Family) directs with a confident holiday sheen reminiscent of Michael Gracey’s The Greatest Showman. He keeps the action moving, the camera swirling around the fantastic musical set-pieces, and allows a warm glow to hover over it all. His script (co-written by John Morris) is clever and knowing, and they even throw in a few wink-wink moments. (At one point, Ferrell runs into someone dressed as Elf from Elf).
And while the script is funny and inventive, the film’s theme is more intuitive than you might expect. No more is it all about completely changing your attitude and outlook; it’s about making small steps to becoming a better person. No one can change overnight, as Dicken’s tale suggests, but when you acknowledge your flaws and begin to move in a new direction, sometimes that’s enough.
Spirited is simply a wonderful surprise. Full stop. It’s something the world needs right now. A chance to put aside your worries and relax into a spectacle we don’t see that often anymore. And I can’t wait to see it again!