Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” gained yet another notch in its belt with the classic’s latest rendition, “Spirited.” Released in select theaters on Nov. 11 and streamed on Apple TV+ starting Nov. 18, the Christmas comedy relies on household names, original musical numbers and the same heartwarming message to keep it afloat in a vast sea of adaptations.
The film attempts to compensate for re-telling a story that has been told time and time again by giving prominence and depth to characters that didn’t have it before. In this case, the central focus is the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future and the annual operation they run. The spirits are all given big personalities with big responsibilities as, each year, they are joined by Jacob Marley (Patrick Page) and a huge team of support ghosts to find a miserable person in deep need of transformation. The ghosts lead separate parts of the “haunt,” hoping to turn a modern-day Scrooge into a loving member of society by showing them parts of their life.
But little does one of the ghosts know, their life would be changing too. As the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) persistently tries to transform Clint (Ryan Reynolds), a sleazy media consultant that puts others down for a living, he begins to wonder what it’d be like to retire from his 46 years working as Present and return to Earth as a normal human. The duo spends the rest of the film challenging one another’s ways of thinking.
Any film that markets itself as a comedy and includes either Reynolds or Ferrell can be assumed to be a winner. Put the two together, and expectations become insurmountable, especially when Octavia Spencer plays another of the movie’s leading characters, plus a few surprise appearances by other renowned celebrities. And while “Spirited” comes close to meeting those expectations (at least where humor and holiday spirit are concerned), the only qualm is it tries too hard to do a little bit of everything at once.
To start, it’s commendable that these leading actors stepped out of their comfort zone to try a musical. Reynolds again shows he’s a natural showman when, surprise, surprise, he doesn’t just sing – he sings well. The songs are catchy, and the dance numbers are all extremely well choreographed by Chloe Arnold, but the film just seemed confused about if it actually wanted to be a musical or not.
Songs came in one after the other at the beginning of the movie, so much so that I assumed the rest of the film would be borderline musical overkill. But then several scenes passed with no music at all, leaving me to question if the music was only being used to establish the plot. Then again, more scenes passed and the musical numbers suddenly flooded back in. The songs and dances themselves were extraordinarily creative and well-executed; they just lacked proper pacing.
Along with issues of pacing came issues with the film’s length. Two hours and seven minutes is an unnecessarily long runtime, and it was a result of the dual character arcs “Spirited” tried to juggle. Both Clint and Present went through fully fleshed-out changes; having both protagonists’ feelings and experiences receive equal attention felt like a lot to digest and confusing as to whose narrative is meant to be focused on.
Luckily, these minor complaints are overshadowed by a few stand-out scenes and an uplifting message that saves the day. Many of the infamous visuals in “A Christmas Carol” are brought back in this adaptation, including an earlier scene of Jacob Marley in all his ghost glory, floating with blue ectoplasm and thick chains surrounding him. The glowing tower of food and gifts Present sits on is another visual highlight. The effects used in these scenes are eye-catching and certainly don’t fall short compared to other film adaptations throughout the years.
Of course, as any Christmas story lesson would teach, the iconic imagery is all used to point to the movie’s intended message on life, which is beautifully summarized in the last half hour of the film. It keeps in line with the theme in each “A Christmas Carol” rendition, but “Spirited” presents and verbalizes it in a way that shows being a good person is a conscious choice that needs to be made day in and day out; it’s not a one-and-done decision.
In all, even with its many chaotic elements, from song and dance to long storylines and striking visuals, “Spirited” has all its moving parts come together to create a well-intentioned holiday movie that will leave viewers jolly one way or another.