Spirited Review: A Classic Tale, Told With A Moderate Amount Of Energy

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Spirited is unlikely to become a new Christmas classic, but it’s still fun to watch Will Ferrell get frustrated.

By Nathan Kamal
| Published

From the get-go, Spirited takes on two enormous, nearly impossible tasks: try to wring something new out of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and make Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell look good singing and dancing. The Apple TV+ production does not exactly succeed in either, but it turns out the bones of A Christmas Carol can support pretty much anything from The Muppets to Bill Murray for at least a while. While Spirited never rises above the level of moderate amusement, it at least seems to have satisfied Ryan Reynolds’ Christmas fixation for at least a little while.


Spirited Review

SPOILERS FOR SPIRITED FOLLOW

The main twist (initially) that Spirited brings to the basic framework of A Christmas Carol is that the visitation by three ghosts and subsequent moral reform of Ebenezer Scrooge is not an isolated incident, but a highly organized, bureaucratic system run by the ghosts of humans who have passed away. Spirited plays pretty fast and loose with the details of A Christmas Carol, but given that the movie also has Ryan Reynolds performing an elaborate song-and-dance number about the diminishing roles of naturally grown pine trees in holiday celebrations, we should feel lucky that director Sean Anders and his co-writer John Morris retained any of it.

As it is, Spirited reveals that the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come are not specific entities, but job titles held by various dead humans until they decide to “retire” and are seemingly reincarnated on Earth. It is a somewhat confusing notion, with Will Ferrell handling the exposition right up front and at least establishing expectations. 

It turns out that Will Ferrell is the current Ghost of Christmas Present, who seems to run point in redeeming souls alongside Past (Sunita Mani of GLOW) and Yet to Come (played by Loren G. Woods and voiced by Tracy Morgan), and answers to Jacob Marley (Broadway legend Patrick Page), the former business partner of Scrooge’s who kicks off that eventful night with the chains he forged in life. 

For reasons that are left unclear until deep in the second act of Spirited, Will Ferrell becomes fixated on Ryan Reynolds’ charming, ruthless media consultant, whose main job seems to be essentially ruining peoples’ lives in order in a way that equals profits for his employers. It seems Ryan Reynolds has been tagged as “Unreedemable, i.e., too far gone to ever be brought back to the side of holiday cheer and goodwill to all of us, every one. 

The majority of Spirited is spent with Ryan Reynolds reacting to being visited by supernatural forces and swept through the events of his life with deadpan aplomb that feels like it has far more to do with Reynolds’ established cinematic persona than it does the actual narrative. That is indicative of one of the other major problems of Spirited: while Ebenezer Scrooge was presented as greedy, callous, and an all-around jerk, Ryan Reynolds actually comes off as a generally decent guy here. 

Perhaps it is that Reynolds is too protective of his tightly controlled image to really let himself look mean on screen, perhaps it is that Spirited is trying to make a point that a person can cause terrible waves of sorrow and pain in the world while still seeming like an acceptable person. The latter interpretation is pretty generous, but either way, Spirited basically gives us a glib, well-dressed man who seems a bit inattentive to his niece (Marlow Barkley) and whose employees find him a bit distant.

The actual big twist of Spirited is that Will Ferrell’s Ghost of Christmas Present is none other than Ebenezer Scrooge himself, who died about three and half weeks after the events of A Christmas Carol. Spirited does acknowledge, via Ryan Reynolds, that the idea that the most famous Christmas story of all time is based on real events and nobody seems aware of it is a bit of a stretch, but then again, Tracy Morgan is the voice of Christmas Yet to Come, so you have to fight your battles when it comes to suspension of disbelief.

Will Ferrell’s Ebenezer Scrooge (seen in amusing crusty old-age make-up in flashbacks) is obsessed with redeeming Ryan Reynolds because he is the only other person ever to be designated beyond saving. Abruptly, Spirited switches the roles of who exactly is supposed to be the redeemed one from Ryan Reynolds to Will Ferrell, which actually allows the former to play a note other than “chill.”

Spirited clearly wants to tap into both the spirit of Christmas and the spirit of Broadway with its musical numbers (by the songwriting duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), though it sometimes feels like it has forgotten it is a musical and rushes into a song willy-nilly. As singers, Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell are talented comedians and thankfully at least know their limitations in performance. If the songs themselves are forgettable, at least they are not so terrible that they linger in the ears.

Spirited is unlikely to become a Christmas classic on par with Bill Murray’s Scrooged (which gets name-checked) or The Muppet Christmas Carol, featuring perhaps the greatest Ebenezer Scrooge of all time. However, it also mostly stays entertaining for its slightly excessive 127-minute runtime, largely based on the eternally funny sight of Will Ferrell trying to stay calm. Still, Spirited is probably not the only Ryan Reynolds Christmas project we are going to get in the next few years, so there’s always round two.