Spirited Review: You are gonna have an early Christmas revelation week before rabid crowds of shoppers descend on department stores like the avian menace in a Hitchcock film. It doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all; After watching the Sean Anders film Spirited, you will feel a lot of humbugs.

Elf, the rare four-quadrant success story that neatly balanced the sweet with the salty, was released almost 20 years ago by Will Ferrell and Jon Favreau. Although it was an unlikely but enduring Christmas winner, Elf has been around ever since. Spirited, the festive comedy from Will Ferrell, walks a precarious tightrope before almost immediately falling off, a desperate and crudely assembled attempt to reclaim that extremely difficult-to-capture magic.

It comes from Apple, one of the biggest bets the tech giant has ever made and it has the impression of being made by artificial intelligence, with a lot of emphasis on artificial. It’s a flimsy product that insists, puppyishly, that it can please everyone. It tries frantically to check all the boxes but only hits one. It was never going to be easy to untangle a meta take on A Christmas Carol that is also a bromance comedy but mostly a sincere, full-throated musical. However, it was enough to start a bidding war, with Apple winning over Netflix, Paramount, and Warner Bros.

Spirited easily and expensively earns its one-week theatrical release before it heads to your smartphone in the annual flurry of cheaply stuffed Christmas streaming movies. There is a thrill in watching one that wouldn’t pixelate if transferred to a larger screen.

All of it is packaged very well, even if at times it becomes a little too artificial, and it will probably attract a record number of people for Apple, a company that has struggled to find a domestic blockbuster movie. However, despite the fact that it might be a hit this holiday season, I doubt that many people will be able to watch it again next year; this is not a movie for life but only for this one Christmas.

This year also sees the return of Jefferson Mays’ one-man Broadway show, a Netflix animation with the voices of Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley, and an Adrian Edmondson-led version at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

New adaptations of the Dickens morality tale are a seasonal staple, so there is at least some initial inventiveness to be commended in the distinctive revision that the co-writers of Daddy’s Home, John Morris, and Sean Anders. There is some intricate world-building and the occasional deft idea, but the joke writing is less developed, and the first scene is marred by a string of misses. While Elf managed to be genuinely sweet and funny at the same time, the tone here is much more uneven.

The film’s humor is as hammy as the honey-glazed centerpiece of a holiday feast, and the film’s two lead characters’ merciless mugging and strong-armed repartee make it unwise to rely on their marketability. Along with a pandemic joke, the film also makes heavy use of references to fake news, Twitter trolls, cancel culture, and cancel culture. It obnoxiously points out its jokes as it makes them as if the movie’s meta-awareness frees it from its tiresome comedy. However, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

For this film’s sprawling mess of a plot, which uses Ryan Reynolds‘ storyline to deviate from a cliche narrative with a cringe-worthy romantic side plot, two hours is too long. The movie ultimately switches haphazardly between Present’s and Clint’s arcs, attempting to balance the traditional Christmas carol template with its contemporary twists and reversals while honoring both equally.

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