You know the story of A Christmas Carol. Frankly, the classic Charles Dickens tale of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future haunting a Scrooge to be a better person has been adapted into more movies and shows than I can count. But now, Apple TV+ has a new take on the story, told from the perspective of the Ghosts themselves. It’s time to get Spirited!
Each Christmas Eve, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) selects one dark soul to be reformed by a visit from three spirits. But this season, he picked the wrong Scrooge. Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) turns the tables on his ghostly host until Present finds himself reexamining his own past, present, and future.
Apple TV+ describes Spirited as a holiday musical comedy. Honestly, my assumption going into this movie was that this was going to be a Ryan Reynolds/Will Ferrell holiday comedy with maybe two or three songs sprinkled in. But no! Spirited is truly a musical-musical. There’s singing (and dancing) from start to finish. (I just want that to be clear going into the film for any Scrooges out there who hate musicals.)
Spirited is an incredible production
First, the production value of Spirited will blow your stockings off! Seriously, this movie goes big in pretty much every regard. The sets, the costumes, the elaborate dance numbers, even the special effects. This is the kind of movie you’ll want to watch a few times, just because there’s so much to look at you’ll no doubt notice a fun new detail with every new viewing.
The film’s original songs, composed by Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of La La Land, are really great. Some emotional, some funny, but pretty much all catchy and enjoyable. And Chloe Arnold did an incredible job choreographing the musical numbers, which are HUGE in scope and very fun to watch.
Meet your modern Scrooge, Clint Briggs
Spirited is truly a modern take on A Christmas Carol, and I mean that in a good way. Our resident Scrooge, Clint Briggs (Reynolds), owns a PR company that specializes in all the worst elements of our online lives: spreading disinformation and infighting, creating scandals, promoting corporate rivalry, launching attack campaigns, managing celebrity apologies. He’s essentially a professional life-ruiner, bolstered by his conflicted head of opposition research, Kimberly (Octavia Spencer).
In fact, Clint’s such a selfish jerk, he’s been marked as “unredeemable” by the official Christmas Ghosts organization: a lost cause not worth haunting. But the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) wants to take the risk. He believes changing Clint’s life would create a huge ripple effect of positivity that would make the world a better place.
Of course, people like Clint usually don’t want to change. It quickly becomes clear that despite a year of planning, the spirits’ typical game plan might not be enough this time. Have the Ghosts finally met their match?
A worthy transformation?
I think the approach to Clint’s character was a great take on modernizing Scrooge. However, I will say that Clint’s story doesn’t reach quite the same level of catharsis as his predecessor. Not because he doesn’t learn from his Christmas haunting, but because his ultimate act of redemption doesn’t connect as strongly to the specific bad actions of his life.
Scrooge was greedy and cruel and completely closed off from any human connection; so, showing him give any regard for other people was a huge character turn around. Clint is cruel and unflinching in his job of destroying lives, but he’s not totally cut off from other people; he’s just selfish and not great at being a positive force in his relationships with others.
(Though he dodges his sister’s request to look after her daughter, he still went to see her in the hospital. And when his niece comes to him for help running for class president, he feels guilty dismissing her and ultimately teaches her how to destroy her opponent. It’s bad advice, to be sure. But it proves that Clint’s main problem is with seeing certain people’s lives as a means to an ends, not that he has a Scrooge-like hatred for everyone alive.)
So, essentially I felt that Clint demonstrating he cared about one person as his ultimate act of redemption didn’t have the same impact as Scrooge doing the same. I wish his act of redemption was more strongly related to his “means to an ends” outlook and actions. Still, I liked that Spirited also tried to take a more modern, less black-and-white approach to goodness too, saying that we should all just try to be a little better than we were yesterday.
What makes a good Christmas movie?
What defines a holiday classic? For me, there’s a few things every good Christmas movie needs. First, the aesthetic – what lets us know it’s the most wonderful time of the year? I’m talking decorations and snow, ice skating and tree decorating, baking and present shopping.
Next, the moral lesson. The best Christmas movies teach us something about being a better person. This is tied to another component – human connection. Christmas movies emphasize we don’t go through life alone; it’s a holiday about embracing family, friends, and loved ones.
And finally, a holiday classic is simply a rewatchable movie. Whether it’s funny, action-packed, wholesome, or fills you with warm fuzzies, you get joy out of putting it on again and again. (Bonus points if you can get in a quotable line. You’ll shoot your eye out!)
Spirited delivers on all three of these elements, and I could really see myself putting it on for a casual watch year after year. Visually, you’re never without a reminder of the Christmas season. It emphasizes family and friends, throws in a little romance, and ultimately asks that we all work on being a little kinder to one another. As for impact, I can say that personally, I’ll never hear the phrase “good afternoon” the same way again.
(Oh, and I’d watch the whole movie again just to hear Tracy Morgan’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come saying “You’ve been Christmas Carol-ed, bitch!”)
Spirited runs a tad long, and I think Clint’s final redemption doesn’t fully address the kind of harm he causes. Still, Ferrell and Reynolds mesh well together. The movie has good laughs, fun musical numbers, and plenty of Christmas spirit.
Bottom line? If you can’t enjoy this one, you’re probably just a Scrooge.
Spirited premieres in theaters November 11, and debuts on Apple TV+ November 18.