“We are in the business of change…’ While perhaps not altered or transported, Apple TV+ subscribers are likely to be diverted enough by this star-packed festive comedy musical riff on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a full-blown musical with a dozen numbers. That the best of them, The Ripple, plays over the closing credits, suggests that there might a bigger and better cut of Spirited down the line, but for now, Sean Anders’ twelve course dinner with trimmings goes better than the tacky Dickensian variety show concept might suggest; a modern ‘adaptation that absolutely nobody ever asked for’ as one character says.
As a homespun mom and pop operation, Apple do like to make fun of corporate greed and eccentricity in their films, and so there’s a layer of social media satire to get through, with hipster homie Ryan Reynolds central to this. His amoral tech entrepreneur Clint Briggs is present when a child’s unwise tweet goes viral, just as it does in Dickens’ original story, leading to a tragic social media bullying suicide and the death of Tiny Tim updated to our hardscrabble now. This hard take on the traditional story sees three ghosts visit, but Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) turns out to have a pivotal role in attempting to redeem the irredeemable Briggs. Present has a constant reality tv show in the afterlife where they reform dubious characters; Present was once a Scrooge himself.
Another big draw here is the score from the makers of La La Land and The Greatest Showman which offers plentiful choons including Good Afternoon, a neat homage to Thnk You Very Much from Lionel Bart’s Scrooge musical, complete with a crying baby to interrupt the singing. The score soars, there is some contemporary narrative relevance beyond plentiful easter eggs, and Reynolds and Ferrell revel in some old school music-hall chemistry that helps you forget the transparently fake backgrounds. Briggs comments on the quality of the transitions, and they are indeed artful; in the modern way, the lack of natural light is missed, but as a tv special, the overall effect is not too cloying, and even the Ghost of Christmas Present and his ‘giant toilet of food’ looks good.
Reynolds’ post-modern smart-guy routine feels like it’s coming to a natural end, but he’s ideally cast in a snarky Scrooge 2.0 and an good fit for an aggressively unrepentant sinner who is quick to question the system of judgement that has selected him for a moral upgrade. Fortunately, Spirited resists the temptation to go too metaphysical, and provides solid emotional arcs for Briggs and Present, firmly rooted in their attempts to rebuild failed relationships. The high points are high, and given that they trade in the currently underrepresented fields of music and comedy, outweigh any lows. Like it or not, Spirited is likely to join the pantheon of festive favourites; it may be overstuffed, but then again, overstuffed is partly what a holiday like this is all about.