If you’re wondering who would create a huge holiday musical-comedy centered around Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, the credit “produced by Will Ferrell” provides some clues. “Spirited” attempts to reinvent “A Christmas Carol”, and although it is big and boisterous, it doesn’t feel funny enough to be considered more than a streaming stocking stuffer.
Sean Anders (“Daddy’s Home”) directed and co-wrote “Spirited”. Songs by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek from “La Land” are featured. “Spirited”, a Broadway-inspired musical, has a shrewd surround that includes its stars (not primarily for their song-and-dance moves, but with hordes who can do both).
However, the playful tone oscillates between self-referential comments to the incongruity of people suddenly bursting into song and holiday movie sentimentality. When either a more bare-knuckled dedication to satire, or an unabashed embrace of its sappiness, would be appropriate.
Playing with Charles Dickens’ well-told story brings a lot more shorthand to proceedings. Ferrell plays the Ghost of Christmas Present and stumbles upon Clint Briggs (a fast-talking media consultant) who is trying to commoditize Christmas. Present offers a chance at redemption by identifying him as their next “perp” and offering him a Scrooge-like opportunity. It doesn’t matter that Clint is described in the song as “unredeemable” or a lost cause.
Reynolds plays an oily character that we’ve seen him play before – a variation of his “Deadpool”, smart-aleckyness – Present struggles to tame him while also taking an interest in Clint’s top worker (Octavia Spencer), whose conscience is more concerned with their work than her boss.
Present also features the unsettlingly rambunctious Ghost of Christmas Past (SunitaMani) and Future (voiced by Tracy Morgan). He complains in private that he can only point.
It would be a shame that “Spirited” couldn’t keep tap dancing to its punchlines. Given how well we know the Scrooge story, that has given rise to both darker revisionist versions (see FX’s Guy Pearce movie), and made it difficult for some great jokes, such as Present’s description of Clint as “the perfect mixture of Mussolini, Seacrest.”
Reynolds and Ferrell, who have an “Elf” -ish Christmas movie resume, are not surprised to be more skilled at comedy than singing and choreographed dance moves. However, they seem to be enjoying themselves and being funny.
It is not clear if viewers will enjoy the show as much. “Spirited” isn’t distinctive enough to make it stand out from holiday fare. It serves as a nod back to the past, but that doesn’t bode well for the future.