For something I was expecting to be a generic holiday film, Spirited comes as a breath of fresh air. How exactly does one make A Christmas Carol feel new and exciting once more? Director and co-writer Sean Anders collaborates with John Morris to present a unique viewpoint we have not followed before: that of the ghosts themselves! An unlikely couple in Octavia Spencer and Will Ferrell somehow works; it is just so wholesome and sweet. At the heart of Spirited, the bromance between the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) and his newest prospect, Clint (Ryan Reynolds), is something else! Their comedic pairing is absolute gold. I had high hopes on a song-making level considering the involvement of Oscar-winning duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of La La Land and The Greatest Showman. However, for me, this is probably the least successful aspect of the film. Is it all just “Scrooge Deja vu,” or is there more to this tale?
Imagine for a moment that all the wonderful Christmas stories of redemption and turning a new leaf were in fact orchestrated by a group of ghosts in a supernatural simulation! Thus is the concept of Spirited, a meta-musical treat that feels like The Good Place meets Elf. Again, Ferrell plays a contradictory character, somehow all-knowing but also naive towards the basics of social norms, a la Elf. For forty-six years now, the Ghost of Christmas Present has been up for his retirement, but his commitment to redeeming jerks is unending. Haunt, change, sing, repeat can only stay exciting for so long before it may be time to move on. A new prospect deemed “unredeemable” may be the perfect explosion of fireworks to end one’s lengthy career. Is intense workaholic Clint worthy of the year of preparation it takes to create a new simulation?
In Spirited, even a seemingly boring lecture can seamlessly transform into a fun neon-lit musical number. While I would hesitate to call any of the film’s copious amounts of musical numbers as “great,” I can easily name some of the clear favorites. The vibrant, utterly ridiculous “Good Afternoon,” and the show-stopping ballad “Unredeemable” stand out from the others, and have that unmistakable Pasek & Paul feel to them. Spirited stays mostly meta in its approach to the comedy and story elements, but in musicality stays rather traditional. I do wish there was a bit more emphasis on these songs, because when they are good, the whole movie fires on another level entirely.
The ensemble cast of characters also serve to make Spirited a rather unique experience. Clint is as awful as one would expect. He selfishly disregards the needs of his adorable niece, and gives her some pretty poor advice on how to proceed in regards to her popularity at school. However, while Spirited would appear focused on Clint’s story, it is actually the Ghost of Christmas Present who has the more fascinating one. As per Clint’s manipulative nature, he basically holds up the mirror, forcing the ghost to examine his own past. A potential fling between him and Kimberly (Octavia Spencer) playfully flirts with romantic tropes. Like Whoopi Goldberg in 1990’s Ghost, Kimberly is the only human who seems able to see the Ghost of Christmas Present. I didn’t even realize Sunita Mani (Save Yourselves, Glow) was in this, but every moment she is onscreen as the Ghost of Christmas Past, I couldn’t stop laughing. Tracy Morgan is also hilarious as the voice of Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come.
While 2021 was host to a variety of fantastic live-action musicals including Tick, Tick… Boom!, West Side Story, and In the Heights, 2022 has not fared nearly as well. With that said, Spirited is easily the best since last year’s assured musical output. Perhaps Matilda: The Musical can also measure up before year’s end. With a meta approach to the timeless Charles Dickens classic, fittingly random cameo appearances, references to Elf, and a surprising amount of chemistry between Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, one could be forgiven for missing the timely message about cancel culture and online bullying rooted at the film’s core. Spirited presents a dash of whimsy and a memorable slow-motion bitch-slap of dark comedy that families all over the world are sure to add to their annual Christmas movie watchlist!
Spirited urges viewers to have a “good afternoon” when it debuts in theaters on Friday, November 11th, and globally to Apple TV+ on Friday, November 18th.
Special thanks for written contributions from editor, Allison Brown.