When you put comedy movie legends Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds together to make a Christmas movie, you can guarantee you’re going to attract a fairly large audience for your film. For Spirited, though, the reputation of its two leads should not take precedence over the fact that what they’ve produced together is a genuinely heartwarming festive tale.
In a clever twist on the classic Christmas Carol story, Ferrell takes on the role of the ghost of Christmas present in this Apple TV Plus movie. With the focus shifted to the ghosts and the hard work they do year-round to save the souls of despicable people around the world, we see Ferrell’s ghost looking for one last, big challenge before he considers retirement. That challenge is the unredeemable Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds).
Briggs is a misanthrope who spreads hate and division everywhere he goes, and gets paid for the pleasure. But, as the ghosts attempt to show him the error of his ways, Briggs turns the tables and tries to teach the Ghost of Christmas Present a lesson.
With director Sean Anders at the helm, whose previous work includes slapstick comedies like Horrible Bosses 2 and Daddy’s Home, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Spirited would go for a similarly silly approach. I certainly thought that, and while there’s plenty of moments that appeal to those seeking a light watch, there’s a surprising level of sincerity to the film.
Both Reynolds and Ferrell are their usual charismatic, endearing selves and strike up a wonderful chemistry together. Their work can be somewhat divisive at times. Meta superhero movies and brash family movies aren’t for everyone, but when they are at their best, they are both some of the best in their fields.
They manage to find a perfect balance here between light-hearted humour and more nuanced, emotional sentiments. In fact, Spirited as a whole succeeds when it is more concerned with delivering a positive message on humanity, selflessness, and fulfilment than when it is trying to make us laugh.
The film leans on the rise of social media and how our online presence can affect those we interact with, and takes things to some pretty dark places at times. There are some really poignant and upsetting moments throughout, but at its core Spirited is an uplifting story that simply doesn’t pretend life is all snowfall and reindeers.
That said, the fact this movie goes for the musical route does add a certain fantastical element to proceedings. The dance choreography by Chloe Arnold is spectacular throughout, even more impressive considering many of these sequences were completed in mere days rather than weeks, according to Sean Anders in an interview with The Digital Fix.
On a technical level, Spirit is not exactly impeccable, though. Some of the visual elements, particularly in the CGI department, look a little off at times and the special effects, particularly when the ghosts transport Briggs through his life, are jarring. Nevertheless, there’s some brilliant costume work on show, and the practical make-up for Jacob Marley’s ghost is very impressive.
At just over two hours, Spirited may be 30 minutes too long for a more impatient viewer hoping for an easily-digestible Christmas flick, but for those who stick it out, it’s worth the extra time.
The supporting cast are great fun, particularly Sunita Mani who stars as the Ghost of Christmas Past. She delivers by far the best one-liners and is involved in the funniest moments of the whole film. Octavia Spencer too, who plays Briggs’ assistant Kimberly, is an endearing presence and she shares a genuine chemistry with Will Ferrell.
Spirited exceeds all expectations to not only produce a wholly original take on Charles Dickens’ classic story, and it may well end up finding its way into the annual Christmas watching schedule. It’s cheesy, sure, and it’s not exactly high-art, but it has everything that matters when it comes to making a Christmas movie. It makes you feel something, and very few films these days can say they achieve that.
Spirited will be in UK cinemas and on the streaming service Apple TV Plus from 18th November. For more festive cheer, check out our list of the best Disney Plus Christmas movies or the best Netflix Christmas movies.
What it may lack in technical flair, Spirited more than makes up for in heart.