“Spirited”, which is currently available on Apple TV+, attempts something different with that famous classic short story by Charles Dickens, and the result is mildly engaging on the whole. As frequently serving us song and dance numbers, the movie generates some jolliness with its two lead actors, but it eventually becomes rather tiresome because, well, we all already discern how the story will end, and there is much surprise or poignancy for us.
Rather than starting with the viewpoint of someone to be redeemed, the story begins from the viewpoint of the current Ghost of Christmas Present, played by Will Ferrell. Along with not only the Ghost of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (voiced by Tracey Jordan with Loren G. Woods playing on the screen) but also hundreds of good ghosts working under a certain familiar ghost figure, Ferrell’s character prepares a lot for their single target to be redeemed every year, and we see how they pull off another success from their latest target.
Once their latest job is done, the Ghost of Christmas Present and his colleagues naturally look for the target of the next year, and he comes across an obnoxious dude who looks quite challenging while they observe their actual target. Compared to their target, Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) seems to be utterly “unredeemable” to say the least (After all, he is running a big public relation company specializing in digging dirt and manipulating public opinions for his clients), but the Ferrell’s character believes that changing Briggs will bring more goodness to the world, and he eventually manages to convince his boss despite his boss’ understandable skepticism.
Once he gets the permission, the Ghost of Christmas Present and many other ghosts diligently prepare that three-stage dream for Briggs, and, of course, Briggs turns out to be much more challenging than expected. Quite jaded and cynical to the core under his charming appearance, he does not even hesitate to dig some nasty dirt for his little niece who wants to get elected as the student president of her school, and that brings more self-hate and self-doubt to his longtime assistant Kimberly (Octavia Spencer), who somehow happens to be able to see Ferrell’s character when he and his two fellow Christmas ghosts are monitoring Briggs during their last preparation step.
Anyway, Briggs soon experiences a spooky prelude before his carefully manufactured dream as sleeping earlier than usual during Christmas Eve evening, but things do not go that go well for the Ghost of Christmas Present and his fellow ghosts from the beginning. In the end, Ferrell’s character has no choice but to appear in front of Briggs much earlier than planned, and he surely comes to see more of what a hopeless case Briggs seems to be in many aspects. While Ferrell holds the ground with his usual earnest comic presence, Ryan Reynolds often wields his usual sarcastic persona with gusto, and they click together a little better than expected.
As their characters push and pull each other throughout the story, the movie provides a series of well-made musical sequences, but they are not particularly impressive in my trivial opinion. Often looking quite stagy and artificial, these musical sequences does not have enough wit and spirit to hold our attention, and the songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are mostly forgettable compared to their more impressive works in “The Greatest Showman” (2017) and, yes, “LaLa Land” (2016). Their songs are certainly effective during these musical sequences with some wit and humor, but you will probably not find yourself humming any of these songs in the movie after watching it.
Thankfully, the movie is not entirely joyless on the whole. I enjoyed the naughty Victorian mood of an extended sequence where Ferrell’s character shows his little hidden personal story to Reynold’s character, though you may easily guess that from the very beginning. I was also amused by several nice variations of those key moments in Dickens’ original short story, and I liked a little comic moment involved with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who wants to do more than merely looking grim and menacing without saying any word.
To my disappointment, the main cast members surrounding Ferrell and Reynolds are often under-utilized due to their underdeveloped supporting parts. While Sunita Mani, Patrick Page, and Tracy Morgan have some fun with their more colorful roles, Aimee Carrero, Joe Tippett, and Octavia Spencer are stuck in their bland thankless supporting characters, but Spencer acquits herself well in addition to demonstrating here that she can sing fairly well, which is incidentally one of a very few surprises in the film.
Directed by Sean Anders, “Spirited” will be quickly forgotten around the next Christmas season, but it is not a total waste of time at all, and you may enjoy getting some holiday cheer from it. Yes, Dickens’ original short story is memorable not because of its holiday cheer but due to its ghostly darkness, and I must point out that the movie does not have much of darkness to compensate for its cotton candy sweetness. If you want less holiday cheer, there are many other darker movie versions of Dickens’ original short story including Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” (2009), and you may have better time with any of them.