Spirited

Have you seen the new movie on Apple TV+ called “Spirited?” It was just released last week, though Apple has been promoting it for a little while now. It’s got a lot of big-name actors in starring roles. But I haven’t heard of many other people in my relational circles talking about it. Maybe that will still come with time and the continued ramp-up towards Christmas. Or maybe the film is harder to handle because of the way it defies easy categorization: part-comedy… part-musical… part-Christmas… Anyway: I just saw “Spirited” with my family this weekend, and I’m curious to talk about it with others. So: let me know if you’ve seen it and what you think about it, if you ever get the chance.

Personally, I enjoyed this film way more than I expected. I mentally prepared myself for a mid-range “Will Ferrell comedy.” Hopefully something better than, say, “Semi-Pro“… but not as good as “Elf,” most likely. I was pleasantly surprised, though, by how much it made me tap my toe to the music, by how much this movie made me laugh, and by how much it made me think.

“Spirited” is, first and foremost, a musical. The plot structure, the music, the choreography, and the background cast of the film all come from the Broadway tradition. And even though I’m not an expert, I have to say that it’s a pretty good musical. Its writing is creative and compelling. Its choreography is fantastic. Maybe even groundbreaking: the way that the “Unredeemable” number plays with light… the way that “Ripple” uses water… The music was somewhat predictable, in the way that it follows the conventions for how a lot of Broadway music sounds and feels — but it raised the hairs on the back of my neck, like so many other good musicals do. And I think it holds its own as a fine example of that genre.

Secondarily, “Spirited” functions as a comedy. It plays to the strengths of its leading actors: Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. But not purely in a slapstick, over-the-top, Will-Ferrell-Doing-Everything-with-a-Funny-Accent-or-Afro way. In fact, the film writers actually seem to play with some of these expectations. They have Will Ferrell do “Will Ferrell Things,” only to be thwarted by Ryan Reynolds doing “Ryan Reynolds Things.” “Talladega Nights” versus “Deadpool,” if you will. The movie also relies on some inventive comedic refrains that brought deep belly laughs when they were recycled at unexpected moments later in the film. But, again, “Spirited” is a musical first, comedy second. So, some of the comedic elements are more muted than one might expect from looking at the movie poster.

Last but not least, “Spirited” is a Christmas movie. And another adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at that. Some people are going to think that’s great. Other people are going to groan. And as much as I’m a sucker for Christmas pageantry, I empathize with the groaners. A lot of Christmas movies are white noise. Formulaic Hallmark movies or only slightly better than Hallmark movies. And there are definitely certain marks that “Spirited” makes a point to hit. But not at the expense of just settling into a trope.

This film is actually trying to say something.

Themes of redemption and salvation are explicit throughout the film. What does it take to overcome the mistakes of our past? How do the things we do in life affect what happens to us after death? How do we deal with the battle between our self-centered tendencies and our impulse for love and relationship? There’s subtlety, complexity, an acknowledgement of mixed motives that I appreciate. The message of “Spirited” is not a Christian message, so I can’t completely jive with everything they’re trying to say. Still, there’s some real substance there. And at the very least, I appreciate the way it could stimulate thought and discussion.

I think “Spirited” is a worthwhile watch. I recommend it to anyone who likes musicals, comedies, and/or Christmas movies. And, again, I’d love to interact with anyone who has their own take on this film, once it circulates a little more broadly.

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