Thursday, November 17, 2022

Spirited, on Apple TV+

Charles Dickens was a professional writer, so right now, he’s probably looking down from Heaven, wondering if he’s ever going to be paid all the royalties and licensing fees he’s due for A Christmas Carol. Disney, Looney Tunes, and Mr. Magoo all had their versions. Now its Apple’s turn. It is a musical this time around and sort of a sequel, but a lousy jerk still has to learn the real meaning of Christmas from three Christmas spirits in Sean Anders’ Spirited, which premieres tomorrow on Apple TV+.

Clint Briggs is a slimy PR-management consultant, who stokes social division for a living. As the manager of the elaborate Christmas-haunting division of the afterlife, Marley does not want to waste their time on Briggs, because he has been deemed irredeemable. However, Ghost of Christmas Present wants to take a shot at him, because he too was once considered irredeemable. If they convert him, the ripple effects will be enormous. There is even a ripple-themed song to drive the point home, but Marley reluctantly agrees, to prevent Present from singing it.

Briggs will be a really hard case. It turns out he is that annoying type of person who always turns questions back around on the asker, which Present is not used to. He is also thrown by Briggs’ regretful deputy, Kimberly, who inexplicably sees and interacts with him during his ghostly scouting trips. There might even be some chemistry there.

The world of the Christmas spirits is rather cleverly conceived, sort of like the visions of the after-life seen in films like
Defending Your Life. Even in death, you cannot escape bureaucracy. It is indeed a musical, but many of the numbers are designed as comedic set pieces rather than show stoppers. Nevertheless, “The View from Here” is quite a lovely medium-tempo ballad. However, a way-too-extended gag and musical number suggesting “good afternoon” were fighting words in Dickensian times gets down-right cringy.

In general, the jokes are hit or miss, but Ryan Reynolds is consistently funny as Briggs. Frankly, he regularly upstages Will Ferrell, who is clearly falling back on his Buddy the Elf shtick. Still, Ferrell has nice chemistry with Octavia Spencer’s Kimberly, who is believably flawed, in a down-to-earth, human kind of way. Sunita Mani also livens up every scene as the oddly hip and youthful Past.

The big twist to
Spirited is pretty easy to guess, but Anders and co-screenwriter John Morris riff on it in clever ways. The two-hour-plus running time might seem excessive for a Christmas comedy, but the last twenty minutes or so are dedicated to a series of Scrooged-style closing numbers. Again, Reynolds hoofs and sings pretty well, whereas Ferrell gets by—barely. Still, everyone came to play.

Sure, things get a little sentimental, but its fun. Reynolds and Mani keep things snappy and the energetic musical numbers are determined to entertain.
Scrooged remains the best Christmas Carol comedy, but Spirited wouldn’t be a bad companion film for a Christmas double feature. Recommended as some candy cane-flavored holiday cheer, Spirited starts streaming tomorrow (11/18) on Apple TV+.