'Spirited' review: Ferrell and Reynolds sing and dance through fun Christmas musical
Courtesy of Apple TV+
A modern-day, musical update of the Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” the Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds-led holiday romp “Spirited” is the festive elixir audiences didn’t know they needed. Directed by Sean Anders and featuring music/lyrics by the “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land” duo Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, “Spirited” puts a fresh spin on the dated property, delivering exceptional tunes (“Christmas Morning Feeling” is a certified bop) and gives Ferrell and Reynolds their most memorable live-action comedy in years. Ferrell’s signature comedy style of wincing like a man child and Reynold’s obnoxious quips that have become his trademark are nowhere to be seen, a refreshing change of pace that makes the mechanics of “Spirited” easier to digest. Even if the plotting can be underwritten and occasionally unfocused, at least the message of finding the good in a world full of division remains apt. Plus most of the songs hit their notes.
Ferrell, returning to his “Elf” Christmas-inspired roots, finds a suitable co-star in Reynolds whom he shares infectious chemistry with as they both sing, tap, belt, and scurry through several complicated musical sequences. We already knew, thanks to various turns in films like “The Producers,” that Ferrell had some pipes, however, the comedian sounds stronger and more confident than he ever has; Reynolds, on the other hand, had the most to prove and he surprisingly holds his own.
Ferrell plays the Ghost of Christmas Present who works side by side with the cankerous Jacob Marley (“Hadestown” standout Patrick Page), Christmas Past (Sunita Mani), Christmas Yet-to-Come (Voiced by Tracy Morgan) and a slew of others. He’s part of a massive operation reminiscent of what Nathan Fielder did on “The Rehearsal:” whereby the team selects a redeemable individual worthy of salvation, create an elaborate and complex set-up that looks and sounds like their real life, and give them the tools for change akin to what Scrooge underwent. I’d like to think of the crew as a theater troupe who follow a strict script and seldomly deviate from their path.
That is until they encounter an “irredeemable” soul named Clint Briggs (Reynolds), a heartless marketing executive who specializes in ripping off non-profit organizations and creating division by utilizing fear mongering tactics (he would make an excellent Twitter content moderator). “Present” is due for retirement and sees Clint as his last-ditch effort to enact real change that’ll make a considerable difference. But the support team, especially Marley, advises against the endeavor, though it doesn’t stop “Present” from taking the risk. At first, Clint lives up to the street cred: encouraging his middle-school aged niece to sabotage a student council presidential race by having his secretary (played by Octavia Spencer) find dirt on her 12-year-old opponent, leading to an awkward melody about how unhappy she is. Spencer, to her credit, holds her own although that song “The View from Here” isn’t anything noteworthy.
From there, “Spirited” has Reynolds and Ferrell bounce around in period costumes and tightly wound choreography (shout-out choreographer Chole Arnold) as they both try confronting their skeletons in the closet. But the soul of “Spirited” never wavers and the colorful interludes and big, boisterous set-pieces is Hallmark on steroids. The lessons unearthed won’t be anything you haven’t already heard before: good always triumphs evil, having compassion for your fellow neighbor etc. But no matter how convoluted things become (“Spirited” clocks in just over the two-hour mark), the predictable nature of Anders and co-writer John Morris’ screenplay stays elevated by two actors working effortlessly to up the camp factor and spreading holiday cheer through catchy songs and a bromance for the ages.
SPIRITED opens in theaters Friday, November 11th before streaming on Apple TV+ November 18th.