Spirited (2022)

Spirited is one of the best movies based on A Christmas Carol ever made. I want to get that out of the way upfront, before we even get to what it is or what it's about. This is a fantastic musical adventure/comedy you should absolutely watch, and there's no reason to temper the experience with spoilers. So, if you're subscribed to Apple TV+, now's the time to stop reading and start watching. And if you're not subscribed, now's the time to remember they offer free one-week trials you can cancel before paying a cent.

Okay, I'm assuming anyone still reading has already watched Spirited, so let's move on to the spoiler portion, beginning with something that's not really a spoiler at all. This isn't an adaptation of A Christmas Carol - it's a sequel. Also, weirdly, it starts with a virtually identical premise to a Hallmark movie released this year, Ghosts of Christmas Always. Both films are primarily centered on the ghosts, with Christmas Present being the lead, as they continue the tradition of redeeming lost souls at Christmas. Also, both movies directly reference the 1988 movie, Scrooged, in dialogue. I'm not sure why this exact idea was floating around the zeitgeist, but clearly it was. The similarities end there, however, as this has a very different tone, genre, and story (though arguably aspects of the resolution are similar).

In Spirited, the ghost of Christmas present is Ebenezer Scrooge himself (played by Will Ferrell). We don't technically get confirmation as to his identity for a while (it's pretty obvious from the start, though). He's joined by managing director Jacob Marley (Patrick Page), Sunita Mani's ghost of Christmas Past, and Tracy Morgan voicing Yet to Come. All inspired casting choices.

On the mortal side, we've got Ryan Reynolds playing Clint Briggs, a certified "unredeemable" public relations expert specializing in generating controversy and helping his clients profit from the ensuing culture wars. Instead of Bob Cratchit, we have Olivia Spencer's Kimberly, who we quickly discover is a love interest for Scrooge. Again, A+ casting.

Scrooge is eligible for retirement, which in this case means resurrection: if he wants it, he can return to the world of the living at any time. He's actually had this opportunity for a long time, but - as the only "unredeemable" ever redeemed, he's terrified his old habits would emerge, particularly because his initial salvation came just weeks before death. Because of this, he feels compelled to save Briggs, as doing so would convince him it's possible for someone like him to truly change for good.

Things get off to a rocky start, however, when the Ghost of Christmas Past sleeps with the dashingly handsome Briggs. Scrooge then takes over her responsibilities in addition to his own, though he finds Briggs utterly uninterested in redemption. He flees from part of his past connected to a dying sibling (we later learn he refused his dying sister's request to raise her daughter, pushing the responsibility on to their surviving brother).

He and Scrooge take a detour to the 1800s to see Scrooge's past, and Briggs pressures him into briefly giving into his dark side before Marley shows up to put things back on track. We then start through the present, in which we see Briggs's niece - at his prompting - release damaging information online about a kid competing with her for class president. He attempts to rationalize this, despite doubting his actions.

As Scrooge continues trying to redeem Briggs, Briggs - having discovered his motivation - convinces Scrooge to accept retirement and return to the land of the living. This works, and they both wake up on Christmas Eve. Scrooge goes out with Kimberly, while Briggs is finally confronted by Christmas Yet to Come, where he learns the kid he pressured his niece to target will kill himself if she goes through with it. He also sees his own tombstone, but - between knowing how the classic story ends and the fact he's not set to die for a long time - really only cares about saving the kid.

Once he's back in the land of the living, he and Scrooge rush to stop his niece. They don't quite make it; however, the point is moot: something Scrooge told Kimberly causes her to step in and prevent the social media post. Briggs is overjoyed, as is Scrooge, briefly, until Briggs tells him he doesn't expect to actually change his ways or quit his job. Feeling compelled to save a kid using knowledge from the future isn't the same as fully transforming.

Scrooge, panicking, steps in front of a bus in order to return to the land of the spirits, but Briggs pushes him out of the way, placing himself in the path of the bus. Just before it can hit him, time stops, and all the spirits appear to celebrate his transformation. But it turns out this doesn't change what's going to happen: Briggs is struck and killed anyway. This isn't a huge deal, of course, as it gives him a chance to reconnect with his late sister. And of course, he takes over the job as Ghost of Christmas Present.

The turns in this are fairly predictable, but - between the humor and fantastic musical numbers - that isn't an issue. As an art form, musicals are more about experience than story, anyway, and this delivers on that experience. The sets are fantastic, and the integration of stage and cinematic concepts make for a funny and evocative film. The movie cleverly integrates the notion that the spirits' work is literally a production, rather than time travel. For example, ghosts fulfilling the role of stagehands wheel props and set pieces across the screen, with Ferrell's Scrooge sometimes acknowledging them.

There are too many fantastic jokes and sequences to list them all, but I do want to call out the sequence set in Victorian London that bore a remarkable similarity to the 1970 film with Albert Finney. It really does capture the feel of that film, with a delightful twist (well, two twists, if you want to get technical).

The music is good enough and jokes funny enough that this would be more than acceptable as nothing more than that, but that doesn't do it justice. The characters here have real heart, and I found myself rooting for and caring about them as the movie progressed. Credit needs to be shared between the writers, directors, and actors for that: if any element had been off, the emotion would have rung hollow. Instead, it really works.

Before I close this out, I do want to call out one element I didn't love, with the acknowledgment that this is an entirely subjective opinion. The politics of the film, while not inherently bad, strike me as a bit of a "both sides" message. You can read Briggs as either the personification of cancel culture or as a Fox News-style self-serving manipulator of news, and my guess is that ambiguity was intentional. On one hand, it absolutely works, which is technically impressive. However, there's a part of me that resents the economically liberal message of Dickens's work being pushed aside in favor of something less offensive.

Again, that's a personal feeling, albeit one I feel strongly about. It doesn't detract from the movie's experience, and I doubt it would even cross the minds of most viewers. In addition, there are several aspects of this movie that feel far more progressive (particularly some casting choices). The message at the movie's core isn't at all bad; it's just less pointed than I'd have liked.

With that out of the way, I wholly recommend this one. I've seen more adaptations and homages to this story in the past few months than most people will see in their lifetime, and I don't think any of them were as purely enjoyable as Spirited.