Reviewed for Film Factual by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Sean Anders
Writer: Sean Anders and John Morris
Cast: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani, Patrick Page, Joe Tippett, Marlow Barkley, Jen Tullock
Screened at: Apple TV+, LA, 11/26/22
Opens: November 18th, 2022
Everyone has met somebody who can’t get into the holiday spirit, but there are those who are aware of its appeal and choose not to indulge because they’d rather amass all the wealth and happiness for themselves. Spirited is an inventive musical that pits two people who couldn’t be more different against each other, one rallying for the good and redeemability of humankind and the other a firm believer in doing whatever it takes to get ahead, no matter how many people get hurt along the way. That’s a recipe for an entertaining experience, one that charges through its weaker points to deliver an enthralling and amusing bit of holiday fun.
The Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) eagerly works with the Ghost of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Tracy Morgan) to find those in need of personality rehabilitation and to give them the chance to show that they can be good after all. Unimpressed with the latest candidate, Present sets his sights on an unattainable target: Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), a heartless media consultant who delights in destroying others for his own benefit. When Present reveals himself after a year of thorough research into Briggs’ past, a battle begins to reshape Briggs against his will to be someone capable of thinking of others for the first time in his life.
This film takes its inspiration from A Christmas Carol but feels like its own signature story, with the ghosts introduced as drinking coffee and enjoying plenty of modern amenities to go with their old-fashioned magical nature of their existence. Present feels at times like a cartoon character, but that makes it all the more entertaining to watch him become more three-dimensional while Briggs, despite his best efforts, softens as he begins to see the value of other people and of treating them with even the slightest regard.
The story found in this film is enhanced considerably by its musical numbers, which feature fun choreography and strong production values. Pasek and Paul, known for their contributions to Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, and The Greatest Showman, pen a handful of memorable songs, the standout of which is the Oscar-shortlisted “Good Afternoon,” which imagines the cordial greeting as an insult in the 1800s and finds Present and Briggs bonding over just how good it feels to be rude to random strangers.
Spirited benefits from sparkling visuals, from its characters’ colorful costumes to the lavish sets, which range from office buildings to large factories to crowded city streets. When its story feels as if it might be lagging, this film’s technical elements more than make up for it. There are only so many ways that a classic tale like A Christmas Story can be retold, and this film finds ways to have fun without pushing it too far. It’s not overly memorable but manages to be entertaining enough for the duration of its runtime of just over two hours.
Ferrell and Reynolds are a great pair, and they effortlessly demonstrate that they’re having a good time. Their singing abilities may not be the best in the business, but that’s no matter since they jump jovially into each number. In the supporting cast, it’s great to see Octavia Spencer getting a fun spotlight, and Sunita Mani shines in a too-small part as Past. As a mindless piece of holiday entertainment, Spirited works very well, gleaning amusement and joy out of an established narrative and adding just the right flavorings and seasonings to adapt it to this new format. It’s certainly a decent way to spend a winter evening.
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B