As far as unremarkable Christmas films go, “Spirited” manages to rise slightly above the rest. This crowded spectacle of a movie features catchy original tunes from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the songwriting duo responsible for “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land”), an enjoyable cast of actors (Ryan Reynolds, Will Ferrell, and Octavia Spencer), gaudily ornate production design, and a massive serving of warm sentimentality and timely humor that provides a nontraditional (yet still traditional) serving of yuletide merriment. While it may not be an instant classic, it’ll fill the need for those jonesing for a bit of holiday cheer.
With its musical rendition of the Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” the film puts a contemporary twist on the beloved piece of literature by telling the story from the perspectives of the ghosts. Each Christmas eve, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) is tasked with selecting one very naughty person to be visited by three spirits in an attempt to turn their life around. This year he’s selected Clint Briggs (Reynolds), a sarcastic jerk and successful media consultant who will lie and create chaos if it means getting what he and his clients want. He’s not a nice guy, and Present isn’t ready for the challenge that Clint provides. Turning the tables on his ghostly visitor, Clint forces Present to also explore his own past and future, and both men must face some things they’ve never wanted to explore.
It’s a nifty idea for a holiday movie, even if the premise is quite silly. The first half of the film is rough, with too many lackluster musical numbers and songs that, while catchy, have some dreadfully corny lyrics. Even worse, none of the stars can sing or dance well, and there’s only so much that simple choreography can camouflage. It would be easy to give up on the movie before the lively “Good Afternoon” number, which is when the film hits its stride. If you can stick it out for about an hour, everything from then until the end is actually a lot of fun.
“Spirited” has a bit of a split personality, as it’s sometimes utterly stupid and downright lousy, but then there are also plenty of truly touching and enjoyable moments. The film explains its own jokes too many times and seems to assume to audience is stupid, but the eccentric songs and charismatic, relatable cast make this mainstream Christmas film worthy of a recommendation this holiday season.