Spirited (2022) poster

Spirited (2022)


USA. 2022.


Director – Sean Anders, Screenplay – Sean Anders & John Morris, Producers – Sean Anders, George Dewey, Jessica Elbaum, Will Ferrell, David Koplan & John Morris, Photography – Kramer Morgenthau, Music – Dominic Lewis, Songs – Benji Pasek & Justin Paul, Visual Effects Supervisor – Sean Devereaux, Visual Effects – Base FX, Brainstorm Digital FX (Supervisor – Richard Friedlander), Crafty Apes, Digital Frontier FX, Fotokem, Mels VFX (Supervisor – Tim Stevenson), Monsters Aliens Robots Zombies, Neon Robotic VFX & Zero VFX (Supervisor – Dan Cayer), Special Effects Supervisor – Jeremy D. Hays, Production Design – Clayton Hartley, Choreography – Chloe Arnold. Production Company – Maximum Effort Productions/Gloria Sanchez Productions/Two Grown Men.


Will Ferrell (Present), Ryan Reynolds (Clint Briggs), Octavia Spencer (Kimberly Parks), Patrick Page (Jacob Marley), Sunita Mani (Past), Tracy Morgan (Voice of Yet-to-Come), Loren Woods (Yet-to-Come), Marlow Barkley (Wren Briggs/Young Carrie), Joe Tippett (Owen Briigs), Aimee Carrero (Nora), Rose Byrne (Karen Blanksy), P.J. Byrne (Mr Alteli), Maximillian Piazza (Josh Hubbins)


For 46 seasons, Present has been organising traditional redemptions of the mean-spirted and miserly via the appearance of ghosts at Christmas-time. It is suggested he is well due retirement where he will be able return to Earth as a regular human but he chooses to remain dedicated to the job. As the time comes for the selection of this year’s target of a haunting, Present becomes set on Clint Briggs, a media consultant who specialises in disinformation. After persuading his higher ups, Present sets about observing Clint’s life. He is startled to find he can be seen by Clint’s assistant Kimberly and discovers an attraction to her. As they begin to haunt Clint on Christmas Eve, he proves too cynical and is able to subvert their efforts. Present sees no recourse but to step in and reason with Clint but this also involves Clint taking Present on a journey to dig into his own past.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) is a classic Christmas tale. There are few who are not familiar with its story of the redemption of a miser. Indeed, the story has become so popular that the name of its title character Scrooge has become a colloquial terms for someone who is parsimonious. There have been more than fifty film and tv adaptations (see below for a listing of these).

Among these adaptations, there have been some strange variations. These include a number of modernised versions, most notedly Scrooged (1988), which cast Scrooge as a tv executive played by Bill Murray, and Karroll’s Christmas (2004). In addition, there have been several gender-flipped versions and others such as A Christmas Carol (2000) where Scrooge (Ross Kemp) was a petty loanshark and A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000) with Vanessa Williams as a self-absorbed pop singer. Even versions that retell the story as a Western as in Ebenezer (1997) or as a Country-and-Western musical with Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol (1979). Not to mention the bizarreness of An American Carol (2008), a US conservtive retelling of Dickens where Scrooge becomes a Michael Moore lookalike.

This version comes from Sean Anders who has previously specialised in mainstream comedies with the likes of Never Been Thawed (2005), Sex Drive (2008), That’s My Boy (2012), Horrible Bosses 2 (2014), the previous Will Ferrell collaboration Daddy’s Home (2015) and Instant Family (2018). In genre material, Anders also wrote the script for Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) and produced the horror film Countdown (2019).

Spirited offers a fairly radical shake-up of A Christmas Carol. For one, the central character is not the equivalent of the miserly Scrooge who needs redemption but the Ghost of Christmas Present. In an entirely modern touch, Scrooge is no longer a sole business owner but a spin doctor who specialises in outrage and disinformation. Moreover, the script tells the story from the point-of-view not of the Scrooge equivalent being haunted but of the afterlife operation that has been set up to haunt and redeem individuals.

Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) and Present (Will Ferrell) in Spirited (2022)
(l to r) Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) and Present (Will Ferrell)
Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a musical dance number in Victorian England in Spirited (2022)
(l to r front) Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a musical dance number in Victorian England

To get an idea of how demented a version this is, imagine A Christmas Carol retold as a modern bromance where Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present throw all of the usual hauntings out the window and wander off to become besties. Not to mention it is a very meta version of A Christmas Carol that travels back to visit Victorian England, contains many Dickens in-references, including a cameo from Oliver Twist knocking at Scrooge’s door, and shows what happened to Scrooge after the events of A Christmas Carol.

I went into watch Spirited in two minds. I have never much been a fan of the Will Ferrell comedy, while some of Ryan Reynolds’ more recent works – The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) and sequel, The Adam Project (2022) – have been fairly lightweight. And I have never been much of a fan of the Musical as a form. That said, I ended up liking the film far more than I was expecting to. Ryan Reynolds appears to be having the time of his life, none the more so than his hilarious opening number Bringin’ Back Christmas. Will Ferrell is at his most hangdog empathetic. And the songs and dance numbers come with such a boisterous degree of energy that only the most miserly grinch would not have difficulty cracking a smile, if not at the musical numbers themselves then at least the sly wit of their lyrics.

Other adaptations of A Christmas Carol include:– a number of lost silent adaptations made respectively in 1901, 1908, 1910, 1913, 1916, 1923 and 1928. Sound versions include:– Scrooge (1935), a British sound version with Seymour Hicks as Scrooge; A Christmas Carol (1938), an American version with Reginald Owen; a Spanish adaptation (1947); Scrooge (1951), a British production starring Alistair Sim; Scrooge (1970), a British-made musical adaptation starring Albert Finney; a short animated version A Christmas Carol (1971) from animator Richard Williams; Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), a 25 minute animated short from Disney where the Scrooge role was played by Scrooge McDuck and Mickey Mouse was cast as Bob Cratchit; the modernised updating Scrooged (1988) with Bill Murray; The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), which enacted the tale with the Muppets and starred Michael Caine as Scrooge; a British-German animated adaptation Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001); the conservative-backed An American Carol (2008) where a liberal filmmaker is persuaded of their ways; the animated Barbie in A Christmas Carol (2008); and Robert Zemeckis’s motion-capture animated A Christmas Carol (2009) starring Jim Carrey. TV adaptations include A Christmas Carol (1943), a 60 minute live version, which was apparently one of the first ever experimental tv broadcasts; The Christmas Carol (1949), a half-hour American adaptation starring Taylor Holmes; A Christmas Carol (1950), a British adaptation starring Bransby Williams; A Christmas Carol (1953), a half-hour American adaptation starring Noel Leslie; a German production (1960); Carol for Another Christmas (1964), a production written by Rod Serling as a United Nations Special that updated the tale as an anti-war parable; a Canadian production Mr Scrooge (1964); A Christmas Carol (1977), a British production starring Michael Hordern; Scrooge (1978), a Canadian production starring Warren Graves; Rankin-Bass’s one-hour animated adaptation The Stingiest Man in Town (1978); An American Christmas Carol (1979), starring Henry Winkler, which updated the story to the Depression era; Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol (1979), starring Hoyt Axton, a bizarre American adaptation populated entirely by Country and Western singers; A Christmas Carol (1981), an American adaptation starring William Paterson; A Christmas Carol (1982), an American adaptation starring Richard Hilger; A Christmas Carol (1984), a lavish British-made production starring George C. Scott; a French tv adaptation (1984); Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988), a sardonic take on the story using the characters from the popular British tv series Blackadder (1983-9); Scrooge: A Christmas Sarah (1990), a British version that cast Scrooge as a woman (Sarah Greene); A Christmas Carol (1994), a British-made ballet adaptation; A Christmas Carol (1997), an American-made animated adaptation; Ebenezer (1997), a bizarre American adaptation that recast the tale as a Western starring Jack Palance; Ms. Scrooge (1997), an American version that also cast the role with a woman (Cicely Tyson); A Christmas Carol (1999), an American production starring Patrick Stewart; A Christmas Carol (2000), a modernised adaptation where Scrooge (Ross Kemp) was a petty loanshark; A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000) with Vanessa Williams as a self-absorbed pop singer; Scrooge and Marley (2001), a one-hour adaptation starring Dean Jones; Hallmark’s sex-reversed A Carol Christmas (2003) starring Tori Spelling; Hallmark’s musical adaptation A Christmas Carol (2004) with Kelsey Grammer; the Italian-made A Christmas Carol (2004); the modernised Karroll’s Christmas (2004) starring Tom Everett Scott; the Doctor Who tv special A Christmas Carol (2010) where a time-travelling Doctor becomes the Ghosts of Christmases Past and Present to intergalactic miser Michael Gambon; the low-budget Canadian-made A Christmas Carol (2015); and the dark adult BBC mini-series A Christmas Carol (2019) starring Guy Pearce. Also of interest is The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) about Charles Dickens and the writing of A Christmas Carol.

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