I am a self-proclaimed enthusiast of all things “A Christmas Carol.” I mean, one of my son’s names is Timothy – a purposeful reference to Tiny Tim from the Charles Dickens classic story of how a seemingly “unredeemable” Ebenezer Scrooge journeys through his past, present, and future in a ghostly attempt to change his ways. Since its publication in 1843, there have been over a hundred adaptations from radio to the stage to the screen and everything in between. One may even dare to ask the question, “why keep making new ones?”
To answer the question I ask another one, “should we ever stop seeking redemption?” Because if the answer is no (which I think is the correct one) then this story will always be relevant so by all means, let’s keep making them. And Apple+ showed up with their answer in Spirited, starring Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, and Patrick Page.
Before I tell you just where this version ranks in my list of top-rated adaptations of “A Christmas Carol,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that I was absolutely delighted with this movie. It was funny, it was charming, it was well-written, it was musical (yes, musical), and it was simply a joy to watch. Will Ferrell plays the Ghost of Christmas Present in the real-life-after-life job of haunting Scrooge-like humans out of their spiteful and malicious ways and into a life kindness and generosity. Of course no Christmas Carol dream team can work without the Ghost of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani), the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come (voiced by Tracy Morgan and performed by Loren Woods), and of course Jacob Marley (Patrick Page). Together with some very musically and theatrically talented ghosts, Present and his team take one chosen “perp,” on the ride of their life every Christmas Eve through their past, present, and show how their future will unfold if they don’t change their ways.
I mean you know the plot. But this year, this year their “Scrooge,” is a hopeless cause. He’s calloused, he’s greedy, he’s a manipulator. He has created such a ripple of negativity that he has even been classified as “unredeemable.”
He’s Ryan Reynolds. Well he’s actually Clint Briggs (played by Ryan Reynolds), the kind of PR executive that doesn’t hesitate to twist the truth (or re-write it even) to win. So committed to his cut-throat approach, he even advises his niece Wren (Marlow Barkley) to dig up dirt on her student council opponent and destroy his reputation, ensuring her victory…you know, for a middle school election. Little does Clint know that his actions have caught Present’s attention and through a compelling musical number and heartfelt plea, he convinces Jacob to choose Clint this Christmas, in spite of the label on his file. Jacob’s deal? That if it doesn’t work, Present takes his retirement package after two centuries of service and returns to earth for his second chance at life.
Balancing an ELF like optimism with a Eurovision voice and a Ricky Bobby style of determination, Ferrell’s portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present is easily one of my new favorites. Sure he has the same optimism and exuberance of most Present portrayals, but there’s a deeply rooted reality to him. There is a story to uncover as to why he is so committed to Clint’s redemption – so much so that he invites Clint into it so that maybe Clint will quit trying to sweet talk his way out of the journey and instead pay attention to how pivotal this journey will be. And Reynolds matches Ferrell beat for beat, creating a natural character journey that starts with defiance and reluctance but then shifts into curiosity, openness, and finally understanding. But ultimately, will it be enough by the end?
I admit I thought I had this movie figured out after some well-placed clues and hints. And obviously there was only one way this movie could end. But I was shocked and then pleasantly surprised with the bow that wrapped up the gift that is this movie. Yes I loved the musical numbers. Yes the casting is fantastic (Octavia Spencer brings the internal struggle of how far is too far to the forefront as Clint’s right-hand exec Kimberly, Sunita Mani had me cracking up as Past, and of course Ferrell and Reynolds were playing the kinds of characters they play best), and yes the spirit of “A Christmas Carol” is in every scene, even if it isn’t always obvious.
But the biggest “yes,” for me is my answer to the other question…can a Clint…can a Scrooge…truly be redeemed…and then stay as such?
(Oh to answer your other question – Spirited is now in my top three film adaptations – up there with Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the 1970 film Scrooge with Albert Finney and Alec Guinness. And no, I will not be entertaining arguments against such rankings.)