Considering the frequency with which Christmas movies are churned out by networks and streaming services as of late, it’s no surprise that the vast majority turn out to be cliched and formulaic, each fairly indistinguishable from the next. But every once in a while, a standout comes along, one that is decidedly deserving of prominent placement in any family’s annual holiday movie-watching rotation, like “Home Alone” in 1990, “Love Actually” and “Elf” in 2003 and “The Holiday” in 2006. This year, that honor goes to “Spirited,” Apple TV+’s modern musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic “A Christmas Carol,” which hit both the streamer and theaters last month.
Directed by Sean Anders of “Instant Family” and “Daddy’s Home” fame, the film centers around a group of good-hearted spirits who work tirelessly all year creating simulations of Christmases past, present and future for one Scrooge-like miserly mortal, or “perp,” in the hopes of transforming them into a decent, caring individual, thereby creating “ripples” of kindness that will, in turn, affect everyone the newly redeemed comes into contact with. As Will Ferrell, who plays Present – as in the Ghost of Christmas Present – explains in the movie’s opening, “We haunt someone, change them into a better person and then we sing about it.”
But Present and his fellow spirits, Past (Sunita Mani) and Yet-To-Come (portrayed by Loren G. Woods and voiced by Tracy Morgan), have their work cut out for them with their latest assignment, perp Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), a cutthroat public relations executive and so-called “unredeemable” who makes his living utilizing social media to polarize the public for his clients’ gain via his high-powered company, Briggs Media Group.
Sprinkled throughout with rousing tunes penned by Oscar-winning “La La Land” songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and boisterous dance numbers exquisitely crafted by Emmy-nominated choreographer Chloé Arnold (which saw Ferrell and Reynolds undergoing a whopping five months of dance training in order to prepare!), “Spirited” makes for two gleeful hours of toe-tapping fun! Undeniably feel-good, the flick is charming, warm and teeming with holiday cheer. If the uplifting storyline and rollicking tap routines don’t get you in the holiday spirit, well then, you may just be an unredeemable!
Adding to the charm is the movie’s sprightly setting. Purported to take place in wintry Manhattan, the film was captured in its entirety in Boston, Mass. Shot on a massively grand scale, the elaborate backdrops give off the illusion of being whimsically-fabricated sets. But, in truth, “Spirited” was lensed not on a soundstage or studio backlot but at a handful of real Beantown sites! As location manager Mark Fitzgerald told The Globe, “The whole thing was shot within 30 miles of Boston. There were three ginormous locations in the movie where most of the scenes were shot.”
The raucous “Good Afternoon” number was captured on Marshall St., a tiny cobblestone lane spanning Union and Hanover Streets that dates back to 1652 and was established thanks to funding from local shoemaker Thomas Marshall. The grandiose “Do a Little Good” finale was also captured on a city street, with Clint and Present dancing their way through the 100 block of Devonshire St. in the Financial District.