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Review: Spirited – “A big-hearted, silly seasonal romp”

Another year, another opportunity to riff on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This modern twist is brought to you in the shape of a musical comedy directed by Sean Anders, who also co-wrote the script with John Morris.

In this world, haunting has become a big enterprise and annual event in the afterlife. Ghosts work all year round to administer a Christmas eve haunting to mean-spirited folk. Led by the ghost of Jacob Marley, the classic Christmas line of up of the Ghosts of Christmas Past (GLOW’s Sunita Mani), Present (Will Ferrell) and the shrouded, skeletal Yet To Come (a mostly unseen Tracy Morgan) assemble to spook another miser aka “perp”’ into changing their ways.

After scaring neighbour-from-hell Karen Blansky (Rose Byrne) into being nicer, the gang moves on to more ambitious Christmas targets. This year, Present has his sights set on the “unredeemable” Social Media / dreadful tech bro du jour Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds, on smarmy form). This is a man who turns the preference for real or artificial Christmas trees into a culture war and digs up social media dirt on a school kid to help his niece Wren (Marlow Barkley) become Student President.

The plot loosely follows A Christmas Carol but splinters off into a buddy movie with a side of romance. When spirit-mortal world boundaries get blurred with Past, Present has to double up and take Clint on a tour of his worst Christmas memories, and show him the life he might have had. Just like miserable old Ebenezer Scrooge did. But memories of parental lies, Clint’s sister’s dying wishes, and his lost love aren’t enough to crack through that tough exterior, not at first anyway. Soon he is trying to mind-trick Present into reflecting on his own life and afterlife choices.

Watching Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell go toe-to-toe is reliably entertaining, sometimes with added tap dancing. There are some fun ensemble moments too, featuring great supporting performances by Sunita Mani on top comedic form, a fantastically dour Patrick Page as Jacob Marley, and Octavia Spencer as Clint’s morally conflicted Executive Assistant / Present’s love interest.

The topical jokes will probably date Spirited fairly quickly, Twitter and TikTok jokes already feel like tired devices. But the physical comedy and snappy one-liners keep plenty of laughs coming. On the musical side of things, there are a few too many numbers, and not all the songs are bangers, or in this case, crackers. But there are a few decent earworms courtesy of La La Land and The Greatest Showman songsmiths Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, particularly the Victorian romp Good Afternoon which ties Spirited to Dickens with a wry smile and a rousing chorus.

With a running time of just over two hours, it feels a touch overstuffed in places. It might not join the canon of Dickens-inspired Christmas classics like The Muppets Christmas Carol or Scrooged – but Spirited is a big-hearted, silly seasonal romp with a decent song or two.

Spirited is available to stream on AppleTV + and in select UK cinemas from November 18.

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