Spirited: A holiday journey toward redemption

Nineteen years ago Will Ferrell appeared in a little Christmas movie that took the world by storm. Elf was pure delight—a film so unexpectedly joyful and compelling that it remains among the best films in the genre. It’s been almost two decades, but I think he might have done it again.

We’re all familiar with A Christmas Carol by now. The classic story from Charles Dickens has been told and re-told many times and in many ways. We’ve seen the classic version. We’ve seen the Muppet version. We’ve seen the Bill Murray version. We’ve gotten an animated Jim Carrey version. Heck, we’ve even seen the biopic version that tells us how Dickens came up with the story.

But, through it all, I guarantee you’ve never seen it like it’s told in Spirited. This new Christmas film—which opens in limited release today and goes wide November 18 in theaters and on Apple TV+—tackles Dickens in a whole new way. And, best of all, it’s a musical!

In the film, the industrial ghost complex works to redeem souls each year. The key leader in the group is the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell). While scouting their next challenge, the group stumbles upon Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds). He’s a PR man, a master of Social Media spin, and Present sees him as the biggest challenge they’ve ever had—with potentially the biggest reach for change.

After some convincing, Present stakes his reputation on the idea Clint isn’t really unredeemable. After spending a year preparing, the big day arrives. But before it does, Present finds himself drawn to Clint’s assistant, Kimberly (Octavia Spencer), and the potential of a life he’s never known. Once the proceedings begin, Present finds a kindred spirit in Clint, but things don’t go quite according to plan.

I love A Christmas Carol. It’s a fun and engaging story. I’ve seen all the different versions described above, each bringing a new aspect to the well-worn story. That’s true of Spirited, too. There’s humor. There’s lavish song and dance numbers. But, more importantly, there’s a beautiful holiday spirit. This is a story of redemption—but not the kind of story you’re thinking. At the heart of it is the question of whether people can change—and if that change is permanent. I loved the way the film tackled this question with humor and pathos. Nothing comes easy as this film takes the classic story, turns it on its head and delivers a film that goes in unexpected directions.

Reynolds is great as Clint. He shines in his seamless humor and in the big musical numbers he leads. He has great rapport with Ferrell, who delivers more of a straight man role here. He’s great in the part and pulls you in. I also loved the colors and the way the camera moved to capture the action. Director Sean Anders co-wrote the script with John Morris and does a beautiful job of bringing this story to life.

I’m a sucker for a good Christmas movie, especially one with heart. This delivered that and more. It’s a win for Apple TV+ and I think it’s destined to become a seasonal classic.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.

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