Film Reviews

Spirited review: Dir. Sean Anders (2022)

Creating a new Christmas film that stands the test of seasonal time is risky business. While those Hallmark-style ones turn up and find their audiences, it takes something distinctive and different to make a mark on a wider audience. Sean Anders’ Spirited is based on the classic Charles Dickens tale A Christmas Carol, and we’ve all seen countless adaptations (with The Muppet Christmas Carol always in top spot), but here they hit the Christmas spot due to clever twists and turns, all helped by the lead trio of Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds and Octavia Spencer who fire up the fire and take us on a silly, but amusing adventure.

As a brief story round-up, Spirited takes that Dickens tale and presents the Ghost of Christmas Present, played by Ferrell, who each Christmas Eve selects one dark soul to be visited by three spirits with the plan to redeem them but this time around? He picks the wrong person. That man is Clint Briggs, depicted by Reynolds, a business owner who thrives off controversy and maybe can’t be redeemed. While Present thinks he can change him, Briggs ends up turning the focus back onto Present and looks back at his life instead, and asks what happened in his past, present and future to end up doing this job now. It’s a fun twist – and they get a lot of milage out of it.

Also, as well as this early flip, Spirited is very much a musical comedy but not so much for ‘all’ the family. There are many ridiculous moments, but the themes and comedy aim for teenagers and up, who’d all certainly find some fun here. Layered with big dance sequences, choreographed by Chloe Arnold and Ava Bernstine, the significant soul in Spirited isn’t just Ferrell and Reynolds but also unrestrained moments of unfiltered joy, accompanied by original songs written by those Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind your favourite songs in La La Land and The Greatest Showman. If you like those tunes, I’m sure you’ll find these catchy set pieces just as endearing, as Pasek and Paul know how to find a catchy motif.

Saying all this, Anders’ film isn’t perfect, it’s got that rough vibe where not every moment works – or feels a bit too obvious for Ferrell and Reynold’s usual approach, but these imperfections are forgivable because it develops into a feel-good story. If you think of Love Actually, or even more recently Last Christmas, they’re both great seasonal viewing but also messy in places but, for reasons unknown, it doesn’t really matter. Spirited has the qualities for a long-term cult classic to return to, with a peculiar charm created by the odd couple in the heart of events, and you can see it coming to the stage at some point.

It’s not all about those two though, as Octavia Spencer’s Kimberly brings an authentic character to the fold as the long-defeated assistant to Reynold’s egocentric and divisive Clint Briggs. She’s funny, thoughtful and offers up her own musical numbers as good as the rest and is a pleasantly vital part to the story. Also keep an eye out for quick cameos and easter eggs from other movies, including Ferrell’s own, that don’t take away too much from the story.

Spirited is a tap-dancing festive addition to your Christmastime viewing, and a fine deconstruction of A Christmas Carol with enough twists to amuse and impress in equal measure. There’s an undoubted subtle nod to morals and ethical choices in a modern sense alongside a smart, sweet and sharp retelling of the famous tale. Sure, it’s a little overblown in places, but it’s mainly feel-good, as silly as you’d expect and what else are you here for with Spencer, Reynolds and Ferrell in the middle? Pick up that seasonal alcohol, stream it on Apple TV and your surround sound and go with it, it’s a Christmas Musical Miracle, and Good Afternoon to you, sir!

Spirited is streaming on Apple TV+ from 18 November:


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