Several Christmas movies and specials have imagined Santa’s workshop as an office setting. From Prep & Landing to Arthur Christmas, it’s practically a subgenre. Spirited is in the same vein as those stories, but instead of Santa, A Christmas Carol is given a corporate spin. There have been other modern retellings of the Dickens classic, most totally Scrooged starring Bill Murray. Had Spirited been made in the 80s, Murray would’ve slipped comfortably into Ryan Reynolds’ role as Clint Briggs. Dan Aykroyd also could’ve filled Will Ferrell’s shoes as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Throw in Harold Ramis as Christmas Past and Ernie Hudson as Christmas Future, and you’d have A Very Ghostbusters Carol.
It’s been almost 20 years since Ferrell’s definitive Christmas movie, Elf. It’s been almost as long since Reynolds’ only other Christmas movie, Just Friends. Spirited ranks between Ferrell’s holiday staple and the Reynolds’ comedy you forgot existed. The film is like a bag of toys that’s almost too heavy to carry. Had Spirited left some of those goodies behind, the bag would’ve been easier to haul. Still, it’s hard to complain when the toys are all fun to play with. Ferrell and Reynolds, in particular, make such an endearing team that it’s easy to forgive the film’s overstuffed nature.
Ferrell’s character has served as Christmas Present for eons. The only one with sonority over him is Patrick Page as Jacob Marley. Rounding out the primary ghosts are Sunita Mani as Past and Tracy Morgan voicing Yet to Come, but there’s an entire workforce that goes into the annual haunt. They spend all year researching one humbug in hopes of reforming them on Christmas Eve. Present sets his eyes on Reynolds’ Clint, who makes a living generating controversial media campaigns for clients. Despite being deemed irredeemable, Present is convinced that they can change Clint. It’s Clint who turns the tables on Present, though, prying into his past and in turn changing his future.
It’s a little disappointing that Mani and Morgan aren’t given more attention, as both are quite funny during their screen time. Spirited is supposed to be a buddy comedy, though, and on that basis, the leads perfectly complement each other. Ferrell also has nice chemistry with Octavia Spencer as Clint’s longsuffering assistant Kimberly. In yet another inspired pairing, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul contributed to the soundtrack along with a few other songwriters. Spirited commences with a Broadway-esque number that initially seems like a one-and-done deal. The film soon establishes itself as a full-fledged musical, though, and the songs are generally holly-jolly earworms.
As expertly composed and choreographed as the musical numbers are, Spirited could’ve afforded to cut a couple, especially at 127 minutes. On a pacing level, this might’ve worked slightly better as a stage show, which I’d love to see someday. As a film, Spirited is still well-directed by Sean Anders, whose output has been hit and miss. His biggest strikeout was Adam Sander’s That’s My Boy, but Spirited is perhaps his best effort. Visually, the picture has the flare of Broadway and Christmas rolled into one.
The actors all work splendidly off each other with several memorable one-liners, helping to carry the weight of the crowded plot. The ending is something of a mixed bag, as the message of redemption arguably gets muddled. Even if it’s not the tidiest package, the gift behind the wrapping is what counts. Christmas movies are a lot like Christmas gifts. Some you play with once. Others keep you coming back. Time will only tell how much staying power Spirited possesses, but I’m already considering watching it again next Christmas.