Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds Transform “A Christmas Carol” Into a Boisterous Bro Musical in “Spirited”

Will Ferrell is a naive man-child whose exuberant energy is matched by his brazen contempt for decency. His unique comic style is somewhere between annoying and adorable. Ferrell’s attempt to star in another holiday classic to sit beside Elf, Spirited, should appeal to anybody who has been missing that persona. In this bustling 21st-century spin on A Christmas Carol, Ryan Reynolds plays the smarmy Scrooge figure. His delivery is still fantastic, and he has great chemistry with Reynolds, even if their purported relationship with Octavia Spencer’s character doesn’t work out. But how wonderful is the movie?

How much you empathise with Patrick Page’s deliciously contemptuous portrayal of the chain-rattling Jacob Marley, a stalwart of the Dickensian tradition, who rolls his eyes and begs for a mercy virtually every time someone bursts into song, will determine how much you can relate to him. Since it is a musical, of course.
I enjoy seeing musical movies, unlike Marley. However, this film’s creators, director Sean Anders and co-writer John Morris, who collaborated with Ferrell on the Daddy’s Home comedy, appear to have no concept how a film musical functions. Rarely do the songs naturally arise from the story; instead, they frequently feel forced in to amp up the drama. They are made even more amateurish by Chloe Arnold’s choreography, which is all about frantic movement and never uses dance as a storytelling tool. Chloe Arnold is a regular performer on The Late Late Show with James Corden.

The composers of Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, and The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are skilled songsmiths, so the songs themselves are not horrible even if the composers’ penchant for large forceful anthems becomes tiresome. Aside from Page, who has extensive musical theatre experience, none of the other main actors are really good singers, yet they manage to get by.

However, the production values are such frenetic eyesores that it’s easy to see audiences fast-forwarding when the film debuts on Apple TV+ on November 18 after a week in cinemas. This is partly because those awful musical interludes extend what should be a snappy comedy over the two-hour mark.

The film seems to pay homage to the 1988 Bill Murray film Scrooged, even down to the title. Ferrell, though, chooses to play the Ghost of Christmas Present instead of the lip-smacking villainy of that illustrious misanthrope. He’s a member of a large organisation that chooses deserving people for salvation each holiday season, working alongside Marley, Christmas Past (Sunita Mani), Christmas Yet-to-Come (Loren Woods, with the voice of Tracy Morgan), and a big support crew.

The time has come for “Present” to retire, and HR has been nagging him to take up human form again and spend the rest of his days on Earth. Before going that far, Present wants to change someone, not just another lone criminal, but someone whose cruelty has an international impact. Clint Briggs (Reynolds), a heartless marketing maverick who specialises in fomenting controversy, conflict, and misinformation, is just the person he is looking for. His motto is “Feed that hate.”

Present exclaims, “He’s like the ideal mashup of Mussolini and Seacrest!” Marley, however, is not persuaded, calling Clint “a level-20 pain in the ass” with the file labelling him “Unredeemable.” It doesn’t take a trip back in time to Olde England to figure out who the only other Unredeemable to successfully complete the programme was. But you know we’ll still get one.

Clint seems to prove Marley correct at every turn, most notably when he consents to help his orphaned niece Wren (Marlow Barkley) win the student council election by having his shrewd executive assistant Kimberly (Spencer) gather information on the young candidate’s popular rival. For Clint, smearing a student in the eighth grade is just another day’s job, but Kimberly has a conscience, so of course she will sing about it.

The song “The View from Here” is an excellent illustration of how ignorant the movie is of fundamental musical principles. Spencer performs in a character that mutes her bright comic talent, singing about Kimberly’s pain while accepting cash and feigning indifference to the lives she’s wrecking. However, Anders and Arnold have office workers spinning around like Martha Graham dancers on drugs. It’s a private time of bitter contemplation.

Thankfully, it doesn’t appear to bother Present, who is startled to learn that Kimberly is the first person outside a perp who can truly see and hear him and moved by her personal comments. This establishes the foundation for a quiet romance, which is one of the script’s more underdeveloped themes, according to Anders and Morris.

Clint’s commitment to his deceased sister years before is the most plausible place where Present’s drive to discover a hole in his cynical armour might be found (Andrea Anders). But neither Present nor any of his phantom friends frighten Clint. Instead, he flips the script on them and discovers Present to be a particularly pliable plaything when he starts questioning him about his own history.

Since this is A Christmas Carol, we are confident that no matter how complicated the narrative develops, it will end with lessons being learnt and evil spirits being welcomed into the light. The movie makes some really good points about how meanness is on the rise online and how choosing kindness is a gradual process that is doable for everyone. The finest of the songs and an excellent way to convey that festive message is the “Do a Little Good” huge all-out conclusion.

Although the fantasy image of Christmastime Manhattan is as bland and manufactured as Victorian London, the film is undoubtedly colourful enough. Nothing seems more authentic than the CG-heavy ghost world that the haunting squad lives in, which seems about as lived-in as a department store Christmas window display.

Morgan’s voice acting produces some laughs from behind the hooded, grim reaper-like cloak of Christmas Yet-to-Come, and a few celebrity appearances help keep the audience’s attention. But the vibrant chemistry between Ferrell and Reynolds, who finally portray the most believable love story in the film, is what gives Spirited its buoyancy.

Here, Reynolds’ smug persona is transformed into an unrepentant, greed-driven jerk who never encountered a circumstance he couldn’t use to his advantage. But Present’s lack of conscience somehow reveals his lingering humanity.

Ferrell is an innocent forced into an existential crisis, a realm of turmoil and uncertainty in which the comic flourishes. Ferrell gets the finest lines, many of which are just throwaway jokes. For the delight of witnessing the elderly spirit Present glance up from a TV and declare, in a voice full of amazing discovery, “I think I could have moderate to severe Crohn’s disease,” I could almost forgive all the oafish musical excess.

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