Spirited is a broken present under the tree

Spirited (Apple TV+) Will Ferrell Ryan Reynolds

Not even Ryan Reynolds, Will Ferrell, and a charming premise can’t save Apple TV+’s overcooked holiday musical spectacle.  

It’s rare to watch a film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol that turns you into a Scrooge by the end of it. Apple TV+ pulls it off with their modern, social media-age take on the holiday standard with a bloated musical comedy that features zero memorable musical numbers or laugh-out-loud moments. 

Spirited, directed by Sean Anders (the Daddy’s Home movies), who co-wrote it with John Morris, starts with a clever twist on Christmas Carol. Just like when the Pixar gang asked themselves, “What if toys had feelings?”, the screenwriters here ask themselves, “What if Christmas Spirits had feelings?” It tells the story from the perspective of Christmas Past, Present, and Future as they plan and execute the mission of converting a new Scrooge every year from having a heart made of coal to being selfless gifts to humanity. 

Of course, since this is a big-budget musical, they pulled out all the stops in casting everyone’s favorite song and dance man…Will Ferrell? I don’t want to throw Ferrell under the Christmas Tree here. His singing voice is adequate (he’s proven it before) but here he’s asked to perform in elaborate numbers featuring multiple choruses and complex vocal arrangements. 

Spirited (Apple TV+) Will Ferrell Ryan Reynolds
Spirited (Apple TV+)

It also doesn’t help that the songs, composed by La La Land Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, all sound the same and don’t push or enhance the narrative in any way. Seriously, there’s a whole musical number based on a joke that the phrase “Good Afternoon” was a serious insult in the 1800s. It goes on for ten minutes. 

Ferrell stars as the Ghost of Christmas Present. When the film begins, we learn these holiday ghouls don’t just randomly show up in peoples’ dreams like your Grandpa’s Christmas Carol. These spirits work in an afterlife office that looks like a hip tech startup. When they’re not busy singing and dancing in lifeless musical numbers, there’s a whole team of dead people dedicated to reforming miserable people. 

Present is looking forward to retirement when he can be human again (the rules here make no sense) but instead finds his next mark in a shallow and morally bankrupt media consultant, Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds).” The perfect combination of Mussolini and Seacrest”, according to Present, Briggs makes his living spreading misinformation and hate-baiting viral tweets for his clients. Reynolds gets by with his “charming smarmy douche” persona that’s made his career since his early days on Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place, but now we have the bonus of seeing him struggle to sing and dance.

The movie finally tries to have some fun when Present and his crew, including GLOW’s Sunita Mani as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Loren G. Woods as Future (voiced by Tracy Morgan), plan their hauntings like Danny Ocean and the boys planning to crack the vault at the Bellagio. The sequence lasts less than the “Good Afternoon” song though, so oh well. 

When the haunting begins, Briggs refuses to learn lessons and flips things around on Present, acting as his guide to facing his fears and overcoming his past mistakes. It becomes a buddy Scrooge movie, with two misanthropes finding salvation in each other, but both actors drag their feet through a convoluted story without any holiday magic between the performances. There’s barely any chemistry to be found here, platonically, or romantically. 

Spirited (Apple TV+) Will Ferrell Ryan Reynolds
Spirited (Apple TV+)

Poor Octavia Spencer wastes her talents here as Briggs’ vice president, Kimberly. Her character is forced into a romantic relationship with Present, starting with an unfunny meet-cute that makes no sense if you think too hard. How can she see ghosts when she’s not the Scrooge here? It doesn’t matter because Ferrell and Spencer have no heat between them and not even an Oscar winner can make it a reality. 

Ferrell starts the film shouting the theme at us via voiceover- “Do people really change?” It’s a question that’s been answered by better holiday films than this, including another Ferrell movie that happens to be the biggest holiday film of the 21st century so far, Elf. But it’s hard to take a movie about redemption seriously when the film itself is unredeemable. 

This movie isn’t meant to be consumed. It’s meant to be background noise in Apple TV commercials. The streamer has had a great run since it launched in 2019 thanks to good taste in acquisitions, including the most recent Best Picture winner, but they’ve finally found their lump of coal with this one. 

Spirited ho-ho-heads to streaming November 17th on Apple TV+.

Spirited Trailer:

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Sean Price

Sean Price was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana before moving to Chicago to pursue improv and sketch comedy. He has written, directed and produced several short films, music videos, and feature length screenplays.

He’s also performed and co-written several sketch shows, including a film-centric solo show called “Sean Price Goes to the Movies by Himself” at the Playground Theater.

When he's not contributing to The Spool, you can see him perform improv regularly at the IO Theater and ComedySportz Chicago.

  1. Rich Minear says:

    I think Sean could not be any further off base and wrong with this article. My entire family, from ages 62 down to 17 loved this movie. And it’s going to be a new Christmas tradition for us.

    Go watch it yourself!

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