Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in "Spirited," premiering November 18,...

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in "Spirited," premiering November 18, 2022 on Apple TV+. Credit: Apple TV+/Claire Folger

MOVIE "Spirited"

WHERE Streaming on Apple TV+ starting Nov. 18

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The folks behind Apple TV+ spend enough money to cover several full seasons of "Ted Lasso" on "Spirited," an enormous musical comedy riff on "A Christmas Carol" starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds.

One suspects that even Charles Dickens himself would be tired of seeing yet another version of the same old story. "Don't they have any original ideas left in Hollywood?" he would ask, once someone explained Hollywood to him.

But if you're compelled to head "once more into the breach," to quote the work of another famous English writer, and again tell the story of a Scrooge-type figure being visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come, you might as well do so in the form of an epic, packed with lavish musical numbers composed by the in-demand duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

"Spirited" offers Ferrell as "Present," Sunita Mani ("GLOW") as "Past" and Tracy Morgan providing the voice for "Yet to Come," here manifest in his traditional creepy form but given dialogue that would have been at home in a "30 Rock" parody.

Reynolds plays the miserly figure in need of a priorities rearranging — he's Clint Briggs, a ruthless PR big shot with a propensity for using dirty tricks to get his work done.

In the world of "Spirited," the ghostly operation takes the form of a sprawling business with dozens of employees conducting year-round surveillance and other planning for the Christmas Eve operation. They're overseen in this colorful workshop by Jacob Marley (Broadway star Patrick Page) and have a tendency to burst into big group numbers with just the slightest bit of provocation.

Songs with titles like "That Christmas Mornin' Feelin" and "Unredeemable" come straight off the Pasek and Paul block. Experts on the intricacies of the big, traditional musical number might be able to discern some differences, but to the untrained ear, the "Spirited" musical landscape sounds a lot like the tandem's prior output, everything from "The Greatest Showman" to "Dear Evan Hansen."

MY SAY When it comes to the annual onslaught of Christmas content, some selectivity must be applied. There's just not enough time in even an increasingly lengthened season to take a chance on every movie, TV series or special.

Viewers who aren't fanatical about soaking up every last bit of holiday fun must be given something more than the absolute run-of-the-mill.

"Spirited" largely passes the test: it's got a high concept that works and catchy songs, even if they're melodically familiar.

The stars adhere to their archetypes: Ferrell plays "Present" as a kindhearted, innocent man-child, in the business of scaring morally compromised people straight because he believes he's making a difference, while Reynolds does his fast-talking, cool-customer shtick as Briggs.

Highlights include Octavia Spencer, appearing as Briggs' put-upon top executive Kimberly, sharing a romantic nighttime stroll and dueting with Ferrell, and an amusing bit in which Page, easily the best singer in the cast, reacts angrily to his employees' affinity for launching into song.

Filmmaker Sean Anders ("Daddy's Home") captures it all with a broad brush that focuses on the ensemble-packed musical scenes, the bright seasonal colors and a Christmas fantasyland aesthetic. 

At times, the general annoyance espoused by Page's Jacob Marley can be relatable: This is a needlessly long movie, overstuffed to the point where you wonder why they didn't bother trying to save some money. At a certain point, you just wish they'd get on with it already.

But it delivers the Christmas movie goods.

BOTTOM LINE Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds and more seasonal cheer than 10 other movies combined: That's the "Spirited" story.

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