Spirited is a surprisingly dark Christmas Carol

By Adia Miller

When it comes to Christmas movies, everyone who celebrates the holiday has their staples. From the claymation of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to the black and white glory of Miracle on 34th Street, these yearly watches are sure to get anyone in the Christmas spirit.

On November 11, AppleTV released Spirited. The festive trailer promised a modern retelling of the classic Dickens tale A Christmas Carol with a musical twist featuring an all new soundtrack written by acclaimed duo Pasek and Paul, who created music for works such as The Greatest Showman, La La Land, and Dear Evan Hansen. 

The Plot

Spirited tells the tale of the current Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) as he works to reform a new soul each year. One day when prompted with retirement, he seeks out the hardest case possible in the form of the “Unredeemable” Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) to change for the better, never minding the fact that only one unredeemable has ever managed to be saved. The ghost works tirelessly for a year to create the perfect Christmas Carol chain of events, only for it all to go haywire on Christmas eve night.

At the core of Spirited is a message of spreading kindness and impacting others for the better with the tiniest acts of good. With Ferrell’s character, and the general Christmas Carol structure, presents a lesson of redemption: recognizing, atoning for, and moving on from your past mistakes.

The film has three big reveals, the first of which is the Ghost of Christmas Present is Scrooge. The reveal is obvious from the start of the film when we only see the Scrooge statue from behind while facing all the others head on. The welcome reveal led to the film’s best songs.

The second is slightly more shocking and far darker. Clint shows his devious streak early on by encouraging his niece to expose a fellow classmate’s bad act in order to secure herself the role of class president, and in an alternate future we get a scene where the fourteen-year-old kid, so distraught over all the hate he was getting, dies by suicide. This is the darkest moment of the film, and though a Tiny Tim parallel was called for, the mood changed so drastically and so quickly that it hits quite hard.

The third reveal is murkier. Clint refuses to believe even in the end that he can truly change, and when the Will Ferrell’s Ghost character tries to kill himself in order to be able to help his friend reform again, Clint throws him out of the way of a moving truck. The world around the two pauses there, and we are shown that Clint has changed, and he’s better than he’s been before. Then, after a particularly rousing music number about being a better person than you were the day before, the world unfreezes around them, and the car hits Clint, killing him. 

The Woman in Black ending is questionable. When it comes to writing, it works great because it fills the missing ghost’s spot and lets Scrooge live his new life while Clint fully atones, and maybe one day Clint will get to retire himself and live a good life. It’s a nice, full circle ending, but also the writers killed the movie’s protagonist. That’s very dark for a family Christmas musical.

The Music

Will Ferrell  has a history in musical theater with his role in The Producers, as well as random moments throughout his film career that featured his voice, like “Baby it’s Cold Outside” in Elf. Ryan Reynolds‘s singing in film is often used for comedic effects. Ultimately both men did surprisingly well, even if they couldn’t meet the standards of costar Patrick Page (Marley), who has worked professionally doing musical theater on Broadway in works such as Hadestown and The Lion King.

Reynolds would talk and draw out syllables more than sing at times. He and Octavia Spencer sound like they’re pressing lightly on the base of their throat when they’re singing, making it almost froggish. Ferrell does it too, specifically during hard I’s, so it seems they were coached to sing this way. Spencer sang beautifully, especially the belts in “The View From Here” and all its reprises. While there were shakier moments, musical fans can all appreciate how determined the lead actors were to do their best, given that they aren’t known for their singing.

The songs themselves range from fine to great. “Unredeemable” was pretty similar to other songs of its subjects, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t evoke great emotion. Ferrell nailed it. Reynold’s first song “Bringing back Christmas’” sounds like a mix of The Music Man’s “Ya Got Trouble” mixed with Chicago’s “Both Reached for the Gun,” especially with Reynold’s employing talk-singing and carefully tempting others into seeing his way.

The comedic melody “Good Afternoon” stole the show. Reynolds performs the whole song with a Dick Van Dyke-esque Cockney accent. Even though it sounds nothing like how anyone actually talks, it adds beautifully to the comedy.

The song comes down to Clint egging the Ghost back to his old Scrooge ways by trying to get him to curse at people in the politest manner ever. It also features a Oliver Twist reference with an orphan coming up to the men asking for more porridge, as well as an unexpected Judi Dench cameo. So long as she’s not CGI’d into a human/cat hybrid, Dench’s presence can be nothing but grand. The lyrics are catchy and easy to sing along to even with their creative phrases like “wankerous cantankerous buffoon,” as well as Reynold’s using the word Bub, which feels like a Wolverine reference.

Overall, the movie was good. The costuming was fun, even if it’s still a bit harrowing to see Ryan Reynolds in a green suit. The music was great, and the message was oddly pure amongst darker elements of the plot. This film may not become a Christmas classic, but if you want a good excuse to watch a Ryan Reynolds movie, which we all do, it’s decent.

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