This weird spin on A Christmas Carol might be the surprise of the festive period...
Director: Sean Anders
Starring: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer
Running time: 127 minutes
If you’re not a fan of musical theatre, you’re going to hate Spirited - or, at least, that’s the logical assumption. Musical haters have a tough enough time with professional singers and dancers in leading roles; replace them with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, of all people, and you’d think it would be a gift from Satan rather than Santa. Yet, even for sceptics of song-led cinema (and I’m clearly speaking solely on behalf of others here…) this truly unique take on A Christmas Carol is fresh, fun and, perhaps most surprisingly, full of pretty banging tunes.
This Apple Original follows Ferrell’s Ghost of Christmas Present as he and his team of fellow spirits run Dickens-inspired simulations on so-called ‘redeemables’, people who have lost their way but are ultimately decent people, in an attempt to convert them from scum to saints. After spending hundreds of years in the business, Present is starting to get a little bored of the rinse-repeat nature of festive frights, and decides instead to focus on an ‘unredeemable’ in Reynolds’ Clint Briggs, a marketing mastermind with a broken conscience. As mentioned above, a truly unique take on the original tale.
If this sounds something of a meta idea, well, it very much is - and the self-awareness doesn’t stop there. In fact, nearly every line of Sean Anders’ and John Morris’s script is littered with elevated gags and tongue-in-cheek digs at Scrooge’s story, the musical genre and Christmas films as a whole. There are fourth-wall breaks, (genuinely impressive) superstar cameos and well-timed jokes on the regular.
Reynolds and Ferrell largely work through the motions without too much effort but the writing is clever enough to take things up a level
A properly funny Christmas movie feels like a rarity. Plenty have cheap, slapstick humour and on-the-nose antics to try and get a smile out of the viewer - but more often than not, the majority of the runtime is spent grimacing rather than chuckling. Here, though, the jokes feel far more measured. Reynolds and Ferrell largely work through the motions without too much effort - neither is exactly taking a huge swing with their character - but the writing is clever enough to take things up a level.
And the storytelling is surprisingly solid. For a topsy-turvy, borderline batshit story, there is some decent - if, at times, slightly ludicrous - character work taking place, with the warm heart that’s associated with A Christmas Carol at its centre. This, combined with some truly impressive set pieces and creative camerawork (the Apple budget is used to full effect), keeps things engaging even when the gags aren’t firing at a rate of knots.
At just over two hours, it is a little too long, and there are moments in which the musical elements detract from emotional beats ever so slightly. Yet, for the most part, this is a refreshingly witty festive release. Catch it on the big screen before Christmas, if you can.
Spirited is now showing in cinemas and on Apple TV+
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