‘Spirited’ Review: Christmas Comes Early With Middling Results

I think it should be federal law that no new Christmas movies be released until mid-November at the very earliest.

“Spirited” is a modern spin on the classic “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, and follows the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) as he tries to redeem a corrupt PR spinster (Ryan Reynolds). Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani, Tracy Morgan, and Patrick Page also star, while Sean Anders directs and co-writes with John Morris.

One of my guilty pleasures in film are Christmas movies, I just get a kick out of em. I also at one point in time really loved both Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, though have grown agnostic to them both in recent years after the former simply rinses-and-repeats his Deadpool persona in every film and the ladder began to simply go through the motions. The two make an interesting pairing here, and manage to squeeze *just* enough chuckles and cheer out of an under-cooked holiday premise.

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell have both been charming and funny in their films, though their schtick has turned them off to some audiences. Neither of them are going too far out of their comfort zone here, with Reynolds being his sarcastic self and Ferrell using odd facial expressions and random quips (“he’s like the perfect combination of Mussolini and Seacrest!’”). Reynolds gets a chance to show his musical side and does surprisingly well, while Ferrell, who has done some singing in the past, is OK in his solos but holds his own in the ensemble pieces. The rest of the cast…. well let’s just say they aren’t made up of any future American Idol winners.

I knew this was a musical going in but I’m sure some people won’t, so when the first big number explodes onto the screen it’ll surely be a jumpscare akin to “The Conjuring.” The songs by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek (of “La La Land” and “Greatest Showman” fame) are alright. While the beats are catchy and some of the rhymes are clever, the sound mixing isn’t the best, leaving the words to be drowned out by the music and dancing. Sean Anders, who directed Ferrell’s “Daddy’s Home” duology, is an interesting choice to helm a musical (much like Guy Ritchie directing the live-action “Aladdin”) but the singing sequences, as busy as they are, are staged well-enough (though seemingly the entire film, even basic dialogue scenes, is shot in front of a green screen, which begs the question how a $75 million film can look so bad at points).

Speaking of Anders, this is everything good and bad about his films. From “Daddy’s Home” to “Horrible Bosses 2,” Anders’ films all typically have some creative comedy bits but feature terrible pacing. “Spirited” runs 127 minutes, and some of the jokes run on far beyond their expiration date. There are several bits here that are actually fairly clever (including one “Elf” reference I should’ve seen coming but made me smile), but Reynolds and Ferrell seemingly insist on one-upping the other and having the final say, so what should’ve been a beat instead lasts 20 seconds (not to mention the musical numbers each last about five minutes when two-to-three would do).

The film itself acknowledges that there are already far too many adaptations of “A Christmas Carol,” but I think that this is a creative-enough modern spin. Showing the Christmas Ghosts as a yearly business that scout a nasty person and attempt to haunt them into change (a blend of “The Santa Clause” and “Cabin in the Woods,” if you will), there are a few meta moments and several satirical ones, though it does feel like a smarter writer could’ve really turned this into “Scream” for “Christmas Carol” movies (The Muppets remain the king of the adaptations, just fyi).

“Spirited” isn’t the worst film of Anders, Ferrell, or Reynolds’ careers, and those who just want a new Christmas movie should get their jollies (my mom really enjoyed herself!). It’s a shame the film wasn’t edited more briskly because with some pacing tweaks and joke trimming this could’ve been entered into the “occasional holiday season watch” pantheon. But as it stands the end results, while not bad enough to warrant coal, are lacking.

Critics Rating: 5/10

Apple TV+

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