You may feel like we do not need another reimagining of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol, especially in early November. However, Spirited has just enough heart and cleverness to make a case against this opinion.
Told from the point of view of the haunting spirits and staged as a full-blown musical, this version is not without a few issues. Those quibbles aside, the movie hits the mark as a modern-day fable that still has power in the timeless lessons Dickens created. This success of the movie is largely due to the cast's earnestness in making a warm, good-natured holiday film.
Directed by Sean Anders, the story centers around the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell). Each year Jacob Marley (Patrick Page) and this motley crew of spirits pick one person to be reformed. They research their subject thoroughly making sure the likelihood of change is certain. Then they execute a meticulously tailored experience that makes the subject a better person by the end. Basically, it is the structure of A Christmas Carol turned into a business.
The latest mark is an unredeemable, someone who has no chance of changing. Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) is a special kind of an asshole, a hotshot PR consultant with a penchant for disinformation and ruthless tactics. He has built his success on ruining people, spreading lies, and manufacturing dissent. The Ghost of Christmas Present sees a chance to change him and begs Marley to give him a shot.
Clint is not an easy target as he quickly turns the tables of the spirits. He beds the Ghost of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani) and then starts digging into Present's past. He also digs at Present's obvious attraction to Clint's longtime worker Kimberly (Octavia Spencer). Kimberly can see Present for some unexplained reason and the two begin a courtship that is endearing.
Spirited works best when Ferrel and Reynolds play off each other. The two have strong comedic chops and it shows in how they push each other. While the musical numbers are staged finely, the songs are rarely memorable. There is one standout song based around a running gag that the phrase "good afternoon" was in Present's time, very offensive.
The film missteps the most in its world-building. We are introduced to a unique spin on the Ghosts of Christmas but are never given any details about how their operation works. It appears that they recreate memories rather than actually time-traveling to them, for instance. The mechanics of this are never explained. The film is also slightly over two hours long which feels a bit indulgent. A few musical numbers could have easily been dropped to make the whole film a bit more punchy in its pacing.
Still, Spirited has plenty of good moments. Again, this is largely due to the charm and chemistry of its leads. These aren't phoned-in performances but rather well-executed due to both Ferrel and Reynolds' chops. They are able to make these characters more than just stock cutouts from previous versions of this story.