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‘Spirited’ just Dickens around with a holiday classic Featured

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“Oh great,” you say. “Another adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Just what we all need.”

I get it. I do. Now, I’m not one to bemoan the ongoing efforts to tell and retell the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge – I love “A Christmas Carol” in just about all of its forms – but I understand if you’re over it. And admittedly, there have been A LOT of different takes on the tale.

But even if you’re a bit of a … well … a bit of a Scrooge about this sort of thing, I urge you to give “Spirited” a chance.

The new film – directed by Sean Anders from a script he co-wrote with John Morris – is a different take on the classic narrative, one that focuses on the mechanisms behind the scenes of the story we all know and love. With a top-tier central pairing, a delightful supporting cast and a frankly astonishing amount of high-energy production numbers (that’s right folks – it’s a musical, and a lavish one at that), it’s a very different take on “A Christmas Carol.”

Different – and delightful.

We all know the story of how Ebenezer Scrooge was changed from misanthropic miser to man of the people in a single night thanks to the actions of various spirits. What you might not know is that that redemptive effort has happened every Christmas since.

That’s right – Jacob Marley (Patrick Page) leads a crack team of ghosts who spend all year preparing to redeem a single soul on Christmas Eve. His leader on the ground is Present (Will Ferrell), whose devotion to the cause is unparalleled. Alongside Present, we have Past (Sunita Mani) and Yet-To-Come (Tracy Morgan) – as well as a massive logistics team dedicated to deep research and meticulous recreations, all intended to help a bad person turn things around.

Present is so devoted to the cause that he keeps pushing off retirement, even though many of those around him think it might be time for him to go ahead and move on – that is, to return to Earth and live again as a mortal.

But when Present finds himself face to face with Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), a ruthless and manipulative public relations magnate who will say or do anything to win, he decides that this will be his biggest save yet. Despite the misgivings of literally everyone else involved in the operation, Clint becomes this year’s project.

Suffice it to say, it does not go according to plan.

You see, Clint isn’t all that interested in changing. And his insistence on prying into Present’s own situation only complicates things further. As the two yo-yo through Clint’s past and present, it becomes clear that Present is dealing with his own issues – issues never more apparent than when Kimberly (Octavia Spencer), one of Clint’s high-level employees is around.

It turns out that no matter how many centuries you’ve been around, there’s always something to learn about yourself. And that the power of the holiday spirit manifests itself to different people in VERY different ways.

I was not at all prepared for how charmed and delighted I would be by this movie. The pieces that I knew about – the source material, the cast – certainly meant that I would dig it. But here’s the thing – I had no idea that this was a musical. And not just a “we sing some songs” musical, either. This is a full-on Busby Berkley-style extravaganza. My wife summed it up nicely when, at one point, she turned to me and said, “I keep waiting for Esther Williams to swim by.” That’s the exact energy we’re talking about here.

Song-and-dance spectacle is something that I adore seeing on the big screen. There’s something beautifully nostalgic about it, reminiscent of the massive movie musicals of yesteryear. With big belted songs and huge dance corps performances, it really is just a tremendous amount of fun. Again – there’s nothing quite so joyful as a big colorful dance number. Throw in some top-shelf production design – particularly in the world of the spirits – and you’ve got a feast for the eyes.

(Note: I feel it important to mention here that our leads did their own singing. I have no doubt they had post-production help, but they 100% sang their songs. That’s a big deal. And honestly? Everyone did pretty solid work.)

Oh, and did I mention that “Spirited” is quite funny as well? Not that it should surprise, considering the cast, but still – I laughed! A lot! There are solid one-off jokes and a couple of excellent running gags (including one about the unnecessary ubiquity of “A Christmas Carol” remakes that was exquisitely meta) and a general sense of joie de vivre throughout.

And of course, you have the performances. Will Ferrell is the perfect guy to anchor a movie like this. Few comic performers are able to inform guilelessness with an underlying twinkle of cynicism like Ferrell does; he’s at his best when surrounded by this kind of energy. It’s a great turn from him. And the smirking smugness that Ryan Reynolds does so well is the ideal counterpoint to Ferrell’s jollity. The two of them juxtapose magnificently, even as they occasionally swerve into one another’s lanes. The chemistry is on point and they are so clearly having a wonderful time.

The ensemble work is top-notch as well. Octavia Spencer is – surprise! – great, just like she always is. Patrick Page’s Marley is just the right flavor of officious. Mani and Morgan steal a couple of scenes. And Marlow Barkley and Joe Tippett – as Clint’s niece and brother, respectively – ground the film in a surprisingly effective manner.

“Spirited” checks a lot of boxes for me. Musical? Check. Comedy? Check. Christmas movie? Check. All of it in a visually exciting and charming package, filled with lovely songs, ridiculous bits and just the right combination of snark and sentimentality.

Merry Christmas to me.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 November 2022 13:05

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