‘Spirited’ Movie: ‘A Christmas Carol’ Meets a Twitter Scrooge – Los Angeles Times | Episode Movies

Like many onscreen Scrooges before him, Ryan Reynolds’ character is in “Spirited” is told that he will face his past, present and future. But he surprises even the ghost that haunts him when he raises his hand and asks, “Like ‘A Christmas Carol’? The Dickens story? The Bill Murray movie with Bobcat Goldthwait?”

“Yes / Yes!” he is told. “Like the Dickens book and the Bill Murray movie and every other adaptation nobody asked for!”

That irreverent humor is part of what makes Spirited – which is in select theaters now and streaming on Apple TV+ from November 18 – a Christmas wonder in its own right. With some strategic overhauls, updated characters and many weeks of dance rehearsals, “Spirited” refreshes Hollywood’s most told and arguably dated moral tale as a contemporary musical comedy that manages to speak astutely about our divided culture without losing the candor of the source material.

From the opening frames, Spirited sets itself apart from other clever retreads of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella by zooming in on his three spirits. “Scrooge is always the one with the character sheet, but the ghosts are the masterminds of the mission to transform him,” says director Sean Anders.

“A few years ago, my writing partner, John Morris, and I started talking about how the planning has to be – you can’t just show up on the day and follow it, you have to go through his whole life and decide what to show him, correct?”

“Spirited” envisions the overnight operation as an arduous, year-long endeavour: carefully selecting someone to transform, meticulously re-enacting key moments in that person’s life, painstakingly rehearsing monologues to inspire major change. And the three ghosts – Christmas Past (Sunita Mani), Present (Will Ferrell), and Yet-to-Come (voiced by Tracy Morgan) – are rulers of a massive corporation, complete with pension plans and a human resources department.

“A lot was made of that story, but the concept of looking at it from the inside, how the sausage is made, was what drove it,” Ferrell tells The Times. “It takes some risks and is unconventional in terms of what you expect because it also looks at the burden of the spirits and whether or not what they’ve been doing for centuries moves anything at all, moving the needle in the world today.”

Ryan Reynolds (left) and Will Ferrell in a song and dance number on Spirited.

(Apple)

Ferrell’s Christmas present grapples with that question as it tries to redeem this year’s Scrooge: Clint Briggs (Reynolds), a ruthless media consultant whose job has been described as “creating controversy, conflict and disinformation for the benefit of his clients worldwide.” According to Anders, he’s “very charismatic and quite a funny guy,” but he might be more damaging to society than the grumpy curmudgeon of the classic, not to mention more relatable to the film’s modern viewers.

“What made Clint Briggs this year’s Scrooge is not only that he’s an active Twitter user – although that in and of itself qualifies him enough – but that he uses those powers to create controversy and division,” says Reynolds. “I’m someone who lives in the dirt and swamp of social media from time to time and I see how absurd, crazy and toxic that can be. … We just keep getting further and further apart.”

The film’s release timing, which comes in the same week as Twitter’s rapid dissolution under new Chief Executive Elon Musk, underscores its references to culture wars, fake news and trolls, though here the truth is softened by film musical conventions – somewhat Anders and Morris have wanted to do this for years.

A man in a white suit dances between people standing on chairs

Ryan Reynolds channels Fred Astaire on Apple TV+’s “Spirited.”

(Claire Folger / Apple)

The songs, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, along with Khiyon Hursey, Sukari Jones and Mark Sonnenblick, are revealing about what Paul calls “the main question of the story”, namely: Am I capable of seeing the worst of myself to overcome? become a better version of myself?” But they’re also loaded with punchlines and undercut by on-screen eye-rolls at the fact that, yes, someone is starting to sing again.

When Clint is introduced – at a Christmas tree growers’ conference, of course – Reynolds channels the charm of Fred Astaire in an elaborate, super-smooth musical number about the exploitability of human nature. “We took a cue from Ryan Reynolds – charming, handsome, a consummate storyteller,” says choreographer Chloe Arnold. “It’s so fun to watch, but it also shows how Clint is a master manipulator.”

Adding to that message is Octavia Spencer as Kimberly, a character who, despite working for Clint like Bob Crachit Scrooge, sends a very different message as she begins to confront her own compromised morals. “She sings about the moment when you reflect on who you were and who you want to be and how those two versions of you clash and you wonder if the choices you made are the ones you made reflect your values,” she tells Spencer.

A woman standing in the middle of a party smiles.

Octavia Spencer plays a new character in the canon of A Christmas Carol.

(Apple)

But of all the changes that Spirited makes to A Christmas Carol, the most striking is its ending, which contradicts the ending of its source material. You’ll have to see the movie to know how it goes, but needless to say, this Scrooge doesn’t end up throwing money at the masses on Christmas morning.

“I’ve been a huge lifelong fan of the original ‘Christmas Carol,’ and we enjoy all the tropes,” says Anders. “But one reason I wanted to do this film is because I don’t believe people can change overnight. It just doesn’t happen that way; it takes work.”

‘Spirited’

Rated: PG-13, for language, some stimulating material and thematic elements.

Duration: 2 hours, 7 minutes

To play: Begins November 11, Regency Bruin Theater, Westwood and Regal LA Live, Downtown Los Angeles; available November 18 on Apple TV+

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