Music Saves 'Spirited' from being just another 'Christmas Carol' Adaption
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's music is the real star of the movie, with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds giving performances similar to their own public personas.
The movie is yet another adaption of the Charles Dickens classic ‘A Christmas Carol,’ with Will Ferrell playing the role of Christmas Present. Considering retirement after the holidays, Present chooses to haunt Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), an arrogant public relations executive who is completely aware of Dickens’ story and what is happening.
Briggs soon turns the tables on Present and instead forces him to examine his own past, present, and future, with the PR exec learning lessons himself along the way. Now Present must choose between his duties as a ghost and teaching Briggs a lesson, or finding true love with Briggs’ assistant, Kimberly (Octavia Spencer).
The result is a fun musical twist on ‘A Christmas Carol,’ with fantastic musical numbers created by ‘La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, but the story drags with Ferrell and Reynolds basically just playing their ‘Elf’ and ‘Deadpool’ characters, respectively.
There have been many adaptions of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ over the years, including Billy Murray’s ‘Scrooged,’ ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol,’ and 2009’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jim Carrey. ‘Spirited’ takes a fun crack at the material but is ultimately stronger as a musical than it is as a Dickens adaption.
In fact, the music is the real star of the movie, with great songs created by ‘The Greatest Showman’s Pasek and Paul. The musical numbers are also fun because the characters know they are in a musical, and for that matter, are also aware of all the ‘Christmas Carol’ adaptions of the past.
But again, this leads to a lot of ‘Deadpool’ breaking-the-forth-wall moments, which now seem tired with Reynolds involved. In fact, as entertaining as he is, Reynolds performance is very one-note and the actor is definitely leaning hard on his charming yet sarcastic public persona.
The same could be said for Will Ferrell, who while equally entertaining, is basically playing his “quiet to angry” character with the innocence of his ‘Elf’ role thrown in for good measure.
That being said, the two movie stars have great onscreen chemistry together and are most entertaining in their musical numbers. Surprisingly, both actors are quite impressive singing and dancing on screen to Pasek and Paul’s music.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is a clever twist to Dickens’ story regarding Ferrell’s character, which I won’t give away, but only say that the actor ends up playing two different characters. His “second role” is more of a stretch for the actor, and while he doesn’t have a lot of screen time as the other character, is completely believable in the role.
Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer shines in the film as both Reynold’s loyal assistant and Ferrell’s love interest. The actress brings a warmth to the film, has great chemistry with Ferrell in their romantic scenes, and also kills it in her musical numbers.
Other supporting performances worth mentioning include Sunita Mani, who is quite funny as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Broadway actor Patrick Page also gives a strong performance as Present’s boss, Jacob Marley, and as one can imagine, is very good in the musical numbers.
There are also a few fun cameos, that I will mention because they are hardly spoilers. Oscar-winner Judi Dench has a funny walk-on role as herself, while Rose Byrne is hilarious as one of Present’s successful hauntings, playing a nasty suburban housewife, aptly named “Karen.”
The screenplay by director Sean Anders and John Morris is very clever, even if it is retreading popular ‘A Christmas Carol’ tropes. While you can see many of the twists coming, it still feels like a fresh take, even if we’ve seen the basic story before.
Anders also does a fantastic job orchestrating the musical numbers, which are by far a highlight of the film. They really pop, not just with the music, but also the lighting, color palette, and the choreography. It’s like watching Christmas come alive on screen!
As far as ‘Christmas Carol’ adaptions go, ‘Spirited’ is at least an original take on the material and may someday be as beloved an adaption as ‘Scrooged’ and ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol,’ or even other Christmas movies like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or Ferrell’s ‘Elf.’ Time will only tell if ‘Spirited’ becomes a holiday film that is played at nauseam on cable TV like ‘A Christmas Story.’
But in the end, ‘Spirited’ is a fun holiday musical with a clever twist on the source material, and incredibly enjoyable songs written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
‘Spirited’ receives 3 out of 5 stars.