Given the countless versions of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol that have already been made going back as far as 1901, it would be easy to think that no one was clamoring for one more. And you would probably be right. Given how reliably each adaptation has proven to be at least passably successful, it’s unlikely they’ll ever stop coming however, and so we should be thankful when they at least bring something new to the table. This latest production for Apple TV+ is brimming with ideas that make it stand out from the pack in all the best ways while also simultaneously enriching the experience of all that came before.
After successfully redeeming another soul on Christmas, the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani), Present (Will Ferrell), and Future (voiced by Tracy Morgan, acted by Loren G. Woods), along with the rest of the employees of their organization all celebrate their victory before beginning to plan out next year’s haunting. In this universe, the Dickens story exists, but is based on the real work of this supernatural group, who did in fact fix Ebeneezer Scrooge all those decades ago. Their leader, Jacob Marley (Patrick Page), takes the core members out to investigate their next target but Present finds him to be less-than-inspiring, and is instead drawn to controversial media consultant Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), who has a penchant for using dirty tactics to get his message across. Marley insists that Briggs is “unredeemable” and therefore best left out of contention, but Present reminds him that they had successfully redeemed one such individual in the past and could do it again. Marley is unmoved but ultimately relents, and so they head to Briggs’ office to scout him out.
Clint’s behavior makes him seem even more challenging than first thought, especially when he assigns his long-running assistant Kimberly (Octavia Spencer) the task of digging up dirt on a student running for class president against his soft-spoken niece Wren (Marlow Barkley), leading her to have a bit of an existential crisis regarding her employment for him. Still, they plow ahead, and come Christmas, the usual beats of this story are set into motion as Briggs finds himself yanked away from his annual party by the Ghost of Christmas Past. He proves to be an especially tough nut to crack though, and when it gets to be Present’s turn, he winds up forcing him to take a look at himself too.
This movie manages to be all the things you expect it to be, and a few that you don’t, in the best possible ways. The script by John Morris and director Sean Anders manages to avoid becoming too schmaltzy, tempering the sweetness with tart humor and a willingness to occasionally venture into darker territory than one would expect. The songs written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind the music and/or lyrics for The Greatest Showman, La La Land, and Dear Evan Hansen among others, will have viewers happily tapping along, with all the catchy hooks and clever turns of phrase one would expect from a classic movie musical. They are also staged pretty spectacularly, with fun choreography by Chloe Arnold and smart cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau that never hides the action. Ferrell and Reynolds are fully committed to the parts and have a good rapport with each other, and Spencer charms as always in her role. There really isn’t a weak link in the entire cast, or much of the rest of the movie for that matter. There are a few moments at the end that threaten to derail the proceedings, but it always manages to get back on track and will leave all who watch excited for the Holiday season (and may also start a trend of people using the phrase “good afternoon” in lieu of profanity). ★★★★★
rated pg-13 for language, some suggestive material, and thematic elements.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor