Spirited, an extravagant musical which I can only assume is Apple’s most expensive production to date, checks all the right boxes and then some.

Using Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as a loose (and satirical) narrative template, Spirited takes us behind-the-scenes of the seasonal “haunting” that’s supposed to rewire curmudgeons overnight, turning them into reawakened versions of themselves. Will Ferrell, tapping into the same charismatic goodwill that helped make his role in Elf so endearing, stars as the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Present, along with his team, which includes the Ghost of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani) and Yet-to-Come (physically performed by former athlete Loren Woods, voiced by Tracy Morgan), select a grouchy candidate and dedicate the entire year to research and strategize on ways to turn their life around.  Present, however, wants to take on a bigger challenge for their next mission: redeem an “unredeemable”.  And while ruthless business mogul Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) would be a big fish to catch, Briggs’ deception and stubbornness could tank the project and taint the timeless process of finding inner forgiveness.

Spirited has been brought to us by Sean Anders and John Morris, who I would’ve never have expected to make a boisterous musical.  But, then again, Anders and Morris are no strangers to subverting expectations;  notably earlier in their careers when they gave audiences a different type of teen comedy with Sex Drive and an outrageous spin on nostalgia with their script for Hot Tub Time Machine.  Their work after those hits have been less adventurous, but they’ve always had a good sense of humour.  This must’ve rung true with Ferrell as well, who worked with the filmmakers on Daddy’s Home and its underrated seasonal sequel.  Ferrell puts so much hutzpah into his performance and belts out every tune.  He not only has a great voice, but he’s incredible at maintaining bright energy and matching the ambition in the script and in Anders’ direction. 

Likewise for Reynolds, who has been accused of not flexing his acting chops ever since hitting it big with his smart-alecky anti-hero in the Deadpool franchise.  Yes, Reynolds has been stuck in a schtick-y rut and, yes, I too called him out on it earlier this year with The Adam Project.  But, Spirited is exactly the type of role I love seeing Reynolds flourish in.  The comic reminds us of how he can break down his sarcasm to show the heart of a flawed character.  At the same time, he’s challenging himself during tightly choreographed numbers and pushing his range as a vocalist. 

Spirited doesn’t overexert itself, which is amazing considering the buddy dynamic between its big stars and the highly detailed musical sequences, and the movie rarely feels baggy during its two-hour runtime.  Despite some heavier themes of death during the final third of the movie (which may require some clarification for kids from parents), Spirited is a splendid seasonal pick for the family.


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