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A Dickensian Disaster: Spirited is a Practically Unwatchable Take on A Christmas Carol

A musical version of Charles Dickens’s story of a miserly misanthrope who is taken on a magical journey.

Spirited Review

Will Ferrell is the star of one all-time classic Christmas movie, Elf, which remains a holiday staple to this day. After Spirited, the new movie out this season… he has still been the star of one all-time classic Christmas movie. 

The film, a musical riff on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that stars Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, is a colossal dud, one tragically short on laughs, and unable to do anything interesting or constructive with its source material. 

Unlike Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, which takes some ancient, often-adapted source material and brings it an astonishing amount of new life and creativity, Spirited does essentially the opposite. Both films land in a small number of theaters this week, with Spirited, headed to Apple TV+ on November 18. 

Spirited (2022)
Image: Apple TV+

Spirited was directed by Sean Anders, best known for directing Ferrell in the Daddy’s Home movies. What’s notable is just how strikingly unfunny this alleged comedy is. The gimmick here is that it’s A Christmas Carol, except from the point of view of the ghosts, who are depicted here as something resembling a corporate bureaucracy. 

Ferrell plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, as part of this bureaucracy that chooses one person a year for redemption (Sunita Mani is the Ghost of Christmas Past; Tracy Morgan, in a bizarre voice-over-only performance, is the Ghost of Christmas yet to Come. 

This year, it’s the turn of Clint Briggs (Reynolds), an amoral marketing guru who may or may not be “irredeamable.” Whether he can be redeemed or not is one of about a half-dozen plot contrivances, dragged out over way too much time. Among them is a DOA, chemistry-free romance between Ferrell and Octavia Spencer, who plays Reynolds’ assistant. 

Spirited (2022)
Image: Apple TV+

Spirited is two hours long but feels like three, with one false climax after another. I kept thinking the movie was almost over, and there seemed to always be 30 or 40 minutes left. And it doesn’t help matters that the plot keeps stopping dead in its tracks for musical numbers. 

The musical part consists of occasionally catchy but mostly forgettable songs by Pasek and Paul, the composers behind The Greatest Showman, La La Land, and Dear Evan Hansen. Their work on the Lyle, Lyle Crocodile movie earlier this fall was even better than this, even if those songs were sort of forgettable as well.  It doesn’t help that neither Ferrell nor Reynolds is an especially talented singer.  The film could have easily excised some or even all of the musical numbers and not lost much of all. 

Has anyone noticed that since Will Ferrell and Adam McKay split up, both of their work has gotten a lot worse? I’m not saying I want to see them reunite for Anchorman 3, but neither is exactly at a career-high point right now. As for Reynolds, this is another less-than-great streaming project for him- it’s like he’s trying to do at least one on every service. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Not a professional critic

    November 20, 2022 at 11:05 pm

    Well I know who’s getting picked for next year’s redemption, Stephen Silver. I mean it was no Glory, but it was entertaining and fun. As for the singing, I think the point of a musical is to have singing, and for a couple of dudes that are not singers by trade it was not half bad. Finally I’m not sure this dude has any idea what a climax is, but he has interviewed an fcc chairman and jeopardy host on the same day, so he must be legit. Worth a watch in my opinion.

  2. A Christmas Carol Enjoyer

    November 26, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    I genuinely believe you just do not like A Christmas Carol to begin with. Beginning your review with a cross examination on the two and slamming the film for their spin on the story. I also don’t see where you think Ferrell and Reynolds have zero chemistry. The whole film their dynamic kept me glued to the screen and laughing most of the watch run. You must have had this idea going in that this was going to be a cash grab and was not surprised when all the boxes for your list were ticked. Merry Christmas Mr. Scrooge and have a good afternoon.

  3. Jay

    November 27, 2022 at 11:08 am

    Wow, am surprised at this review, maybe the dude was in a bad mood? My family found this movie to be fun and very enjoyable and thought Ferrell and Reynolds (especially Reynolds) sang and danced well. I loved the totally different take on a Christmas Carol too.

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