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‘Spirited’ is for those seeking something edgy; ‘Scrooge: A Christmas Carol’ is fine for families

“Spirited” (Rated PG-13)

Cast: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani, Tracey Morgan

Genre: Musical/Comedy

Where to watch: Apple TV+

Dwight’s Rating:

“Scrooge: A Christmas Carol” (Rated TV-Y7)

Cast: Luke Evans, Olivia Colman, Jonathan Pryce, Johnny Flynn, Fra Fee

Genre: Musical/Comedy

Where to watch: Netflix

Dwight’s Rating:

“Great minds think alike”.

That, or, when it comes to the movies, “there are no new ideas anymore”, and everyone shares one brain (or perhaps brain trust).

And when it comes to Christmas stories, that one brain trust believes we just can’t get enough of Ebenezer Scrooge – the unforgettable character from Charles Dickens’ immensely popular and influential 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol”, which largely came to define the standards and traditions for Christmas in the modern era.

In these nearly 200 years since, there have been countless retellings of this story. Many other books are loosely based on the tale, plus there’ve been scores of big screen adaptations, television productions, stage plays and musicals, animated versions. Heck, even the Muppets got in on the action (1992’s “The Muppets Christmas Carol”).

Then, there’s the endless number of television shows that have done a Christmas special with one of their most despicable characters getting the Scrooge treatment. It’s guaranteed to happen at least once every single year.

If you tried to watch one of every one of these each day, every day, you probably would have barely scratched the surface before Christmas next year rolls around.

Even so, there are new theatrical releases inspired by “A Christmas Carol” in 2022. Two, in fact, and released within weeks of each other.

Both are musical comedy adaptations! One LIVE action and one animated.

The former, “Spirited”, was released on Apple TV+ on November 18, after a brief week-long run, in select US theaters. And the latter, “Scrooge: A Christmas Carol”, was released on Netflix last week Friday.

They are remarkably similar in many ways, yet ultimately, the results couldn’t be more different.

As one would expect from a film starring comedy legends Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, “Spirited” is sarcastic and sly and often witty, and aimed at those who think musicals (especially most of those released since the late 1960s) are goofy and tiresome. It’s more a spoof of the genre than a celebration of it.

Despite this, many of the musical numbers are highly entertaining, and a few of the songs are actually “cute”, and might become catchy ear-worms if listened to enough.

Fans of the wonderful TV series “The Good Place” may feel quite at home with the general vibe here.

The talented cast is the primary reason. If you love the trademark Reynolds snark, you’ll be in heaven – pardon the pun. And Ferrell displays an onscreen joy and energy we’ve rarely seen from him since his other Christmas classic, “Elf”. The two together shine, along with Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer, and a host of other unusual misfit characters.

Don’t take anything you see here too seriously, as “Spirited” certainly doesn’t. It is more often than not quite humorous – if not consistently, and a tad too long.

It is a bit dark, and certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of eggnog, but I get the impression this is one that will grow on audiences. It’s something that in a few years may develop a cult following, and then a few years after that, the masses will discover it, and it could become a late-blooming Christmas classic, much like the now-beloved “A Christmas Story” (with Ralphie and that “you’ll shoot your eye out” BB gun), which also took quite a few years to reach the rockstar status it holds today.

Ironically, the entire time I was watching – I kid you not – I was thinking “this movie would probably work better if it were animated”. If this had been perhaps Pixar, this could have been a smash. With the same actors voicing the characters, and not one change to the script, “Spirited” would be magical.

Not until after watching it, did I learn that Netflix was releasing its own animated comedy-musical. So, is “Scrooge: A Christmas Carol” the animated movie I was hoping “Spirited” would be?

Not at all!

While it also brands itself as a comedy musical, it is certainly lacking the extreme adult-like humor of “Spirited”, and takes a much more traditional approach to the Dickens story.

Based on the very well regarded 1970 “Scrooge” musical film starring Albert Finney (who won the Golden Globe for his portrayal of the title character), this animated flick is family friendly.

However, the songs aren’t quite as catchy or memorable, and overall, despite some decent animation, the production is a tad on the dull side, even with its own talented cast.

Again, “Scrooge: A Christmas Carol” will be fine for families – older children and young teens. But the creative take of “Spirited” on this classic story will appeal to those seeking something with a little more edge this holiday season.

Both represent the rare occasions I wish there were “quarter” options with the ratings, as in “Scrooge: A Christmas Carol” would get “two-and-a-quarter” stars (instead of just two), and “Spirited” definitely deserves “two-and-three-quarters” (not just 2.5, but still not quite three).

In any event, both make more sense than what counts as Christmas movies on the two 24-hour Christmas marathon networks (you know who!). Clearly, the great minds there have suffered some massive brain trauma.

• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.

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Dwight Strachan

Dwight is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff.

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