‘Spirited’: Will Ferrell-Ryan Reynolds Musical Comedy Is Hardly a Holiday Treat

Nearly two decades after winning over audiences as a lovable human adopted by one of Santa’s helpers in “Elf,” Will Ferrell returns to the genre that made him a superstar with “Spirited.” In this musical comedy from the former “Saturday Night Live” alum, which is an updated version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ferrell plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Ryan Reynolds co-stars as Clint Briggs, the unscrupulous marketing consultant that Present has handpicked to “save” Christmas. Ferrell as a fantastical Christmas being and Reynolds as a slick, quippy a-hole should make for a slam dunk, but the overstuffed spectacle fails to inspire much holiday cheer.

“Spirited” begins on Christmas morning with Present and his crew, which includes the Ghost of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani), Yet to Come (Tracy Morgan) and Jacob Marley (Patrick Page), having successfully transformed a pernicious woman named Karen (Rose Byrne) into a better person. Afterwards, they are tasked with finding a new candidate, for whom they are to spend the next year researching in order to prepare for their journey through that person’s past, present and future. Present pushes for Clint, despite him having a file marked “unredeemable.” The marketing guru’s latest stunts involve inciting a Christmas tree war and pushing his tween niece, Wren (Marlow Barkley), to resort to online bullying in order to be elected president of her class.

In a departure from previous “Christmas Carol” adaptations, director Sean Anders, along with his co-writer John Morris, does a deep dive into the Ghost of Christmas Present, who is contemplating retiring and returning to Earth as a mortal. He previously lived 200 years ago, which comes to be an important part of the plot. An endearing subplot involves Present falling in love with Kimberly (Octavia Spencer), Clint’s second-in-command whose position starts to take a toll on her.

Christmas Eve comes, and Clint proves to be a challenge, as he proceeds to seduce Past before Present steps in. In a twist, he turns the tables on Present, forcing him to examine his own life and choices. Clever Clint correctly surmises that it is Present who wants all the things that he is trying to convince Clint he needs in his life, namely a warm home with a loving wife and children. 

If “Spirited” just stuck to its premise of being a comedy about the Ghost of Christmas Present getting outsmarted by a Scrooge, it may have been an enjoyable holiday ride. However, with its overproduced musical numbers and detours, it feels overstuffed and clunky. “Spirited” is the latest feature from Apple TV+, the streaming service who knocked it out of the ballpark with their musical comedy series “Schmigadoon!” However, while that show was a satire full of sharp humor, “Spirited” is all over the place. Aside from an anti-bullying message, the film does not have a lot of profound things to say. 

This is the time of year when networks and streamers churn out holiday offerings, some more satisfying than others, and with its star-studded cast and high budget, one would have expected more from “Spirited.” Sadly, it is hard to figure out who this film is for. There are few genuine laughs, and while silly holiday comedies often find an audience with kids, this one has too much profanity to be called family-friendly. Although the chemistry between Ferrell and Reynolds could not save the film, there is still a spark there, so here’s hoping there’s a better script out there for the pair.

Spirited” releases Nov. 11 in select theaters, Nov. 18 on Apple TV+.