Lydia Jayaputra — Staff Writer
Get ready for the newest Christmas movie on the block: “Spirited.” With co-stars Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, “Spirited” wants to be a big-hearted, funny, and lovable classic, but gets tangled in its mix of self-aware humor, moral wrestling, and lengthy musical numbers.
What if “A Christmas Carol” wasn’t a one-off operation? In “Spirited,” the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future (along with their corporate team of spirits), find a new jerk to haunt every year. All goes smoothly for two centuries, as human after human is redeemed by their Christmas haunts, until the ghost of Christmas present (Will Ferrell) persuades the team to take on an “unredeemable”: Clint, a.k.a. Ryan Reynolds, a social media manipulator, a man willing to lie and weaponize any internet conflict for his client’s (and his own) profit. A moral tug-of-war ensues, with Ferrell and the spirit crew finding Reynolds a much harder client to change than they thought.
As a watcher, you’ll laugh out loud at “Spirited” more than once – nary a few minutes goes by without a good joke. You’ll also grow weary of song and dance. Oh, did I mention this is a musical? There are 12 songs in this two-hour-long movie. Sure, the characters know they’re in a musical, and some beg for the singing to stop, but the singing just does. Not. Stop. “Spirited” tries to acknowledge how corny musicals are while still being a musical, but you can’t have your cake and eat it: it still feels corny.
On the other side of all the singing, you’ll start to feel like there are a few moral lessons underneath the zaniness. You may even wrestle with the movie’s messages, sympathize with the struggles of Ferrell and Reynolds, and take their problems seriously. That is, until the next joke and song comes along.
If you have trouble taking a high-production musical number about deep struggles seriously (background costumes, flashy lights, and choreography included), be prepared to laugh when “Spirited” wants you to cry. The break between reality and musical is done very well production-wise, but it’s a hard mental leap to go from a constant stream of Reynolds and Ferrell-brand humor — which takes nothing seriously — to earnest, emotional, heart-pouring messages. I’m sorry, Will Ferrell, did you want me to feel your pain when you sang about guilt? I was kind of too distracted by the tone of the rest of the movie.
Enough with the criticism. If you give “Spirited” a little grace for these awkward tone shifts, you’ll find some great laughs along with some heartwarming, honest messages. I, for one, did not expect this movie to tackle past guilt, internet culture, and the meaning of true human change, and I certainly did not expect to find myself wrestling with those issues during the movie. And yet, I was.
While musical numbers take the brunt of emotional exposition, there are enough ‘real-world’ scenes with sincere emotion to bring the character’s problems home. “Spirited” gives honest portrayals of modern moral problems; ergo, the character’s reactions to those problems feel genuine. There are no cartoon villains here — just real, flawed people. The watcher is encouraged, nay, compelled, to root for pretty much everyone.
“Spirited” may not accomplish everything it wanted to (which was a lot), but it still ends up being a fun, enjoyable time. You’ll laugh at well-landed jokes, laugh again at poorly-landed emotional musicals, and maybe feel some true joy and moral lessons underneath it all. With a little grace and mercy, “Spirited” deserves a spot on your Christmas movie shelf.