Based on Spirited, there should be more musicals starring comedians. The idea makes sense. Screen comedy is about creating a sense of jubilance. Musicals have the same goal. Plus, when you see unexpected actors singing and dancing, it feels more spontaneous than when you see actors you already know have those talents. There's a thrill in noticing that they've taken the time to master new skills. In this case, Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds step up to the plate, approaching the material with sincerity and acquitting themselves nicely in the musical performance department. I don't know if the movie will become a perennial classic, but it's certainly a terrific way to spend two hours this, or any, Christmas season.
In this thorough re-imagining of A Christmas Carol, Ferrell plays the Ghost of Christmas Present. His boss, Jacob Marley (Patrick Page), thinks it's time for him to pass the torch to someone else. “Present” doesn't want to do that, though. In fact, he wants a challenge. One presents itself in the form of Clint Briggs (Reynolds), a slick media consultant who revels in his own dirty tricks. Marley believes he's irredeemable, but Present thinks he'd make an ideal choice to scare straight, dubbing him “the perfect combination of Mussolini and Seacrest.”
The task proves infinitely more difficult than expected. Clint is too cynical to fall for the routine. He even tries to turn the tables on Present, duping him into having doubts about his own worthiness of redemption. There's also the little distraction of Kimberly (Octavia Spencer), Clint's assistant, who can see Present. He's attracted to her, yet lacks the self-confidence to do anything about it.
Thank goodness there are songs to be sung to work through all this stuff! Spirited's tunes were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the musical maestros behind The Greatest Showman and Lyle Lyle Crocodile. The songs are incredibly catchy, as well as filled with witty lyrics. For example, in addressing a group of Christmas tree salesman, Clint encourages them to fight artificial tree manufacturers by making their product seem anti-Christmas. He sings: ”Every Facebook-lovin' Boomer wants to fight a culture war/So tell your core consumer what the hell they're fightin' for!” Other songs, like the one Kimberly sings about believing she's a bad person because she works for Clint, have an emotional twist.
Director Sean Anders (Instant Family) stages the production numbers with equal parts creativity and high energy. The most dazzling of them to my eyes finds Present singing on a darkened stage, backed by dancers wielding flashlights that they move in unison. Visually, it's stunning. Anders has a knack for knowing where to insert a laugh during the song-and-dance routines and when to let them advance the story. Each enlivens the film in just the right way.
With Ferrell and Reynolds at the helm, Spirited has a lot of hilarity. The actors have great chemistry together, clearly working to compliment each other rather than competing for the laughs. Nowhere is their magic more evident than in a scene where Present takes Clint back to the 19th century, explaining that, in his day, saying “Good afternoon!” to someone was akin to saying “F*** you!” The guys then sing a song that requires running around a small village insulting people by yelling “Good afternoon!” at them. While not necessarily funny per se, watching the stars sing and dance in this and other numbers is extremely pleasurable, as they approach the task with enthusiasm.
Spirited's sole notable flaw is that the tone is too often on “10.” This is one of those movies that goes at full speed from start to finish. That includes an excess of CGI effects, occasionally at times when they aren't really needed. The film might have benefitted from being toned down a bit to avoid the exhaustion factor. Or maybe I'm just being a Scrooge. On the whole, Spirited is holiday entertainment that definitely gets you in a Christmas mood. Humor, good music, and the infectious joy Ferrell and Reynolds bring to the project combine to deliver yuletide fun.
out of four
Spirited is rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material and thematic elements. The running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.