We’ve had a severe lack of “classic” Christmas films this past decade. I know everyone has their favourites, and there are a handful of “good enough” family flicks in the running, but it’s tough to tangle with the massive cachet of some old juggernauts. 8-Bit Christmas admirably claws its way up out of the gutter with a cute Princess Bride framework, but ultimately succumbs to the same flaws as those aforementioned recent attempts.
Just by reading the cast list, you can probably plan how 8-Bit Christmas is going to play out. Neil Patrick Harris is the doting father in the modern storyline. June Diane Raphael is the independent mother and Steve Zahn is the wacky father of Neil Patrick Harris’ character in 1988. Yep, there are two narratives happening, with the framing device centred around a present-day get-together and family drama.
In the past, Jake Doyle, NPH’s younger self, is trying to snag an NES console when it’s the hottest toy in the US, while narrating the tale to his daughter in the present. Think of a more sentimental, less slapstick consumerist approach like Jingle all the Way, with a dash of Wonder Years, Christmas Story, and The Goldbergs. And of course, Princess Bride, including the classic “reeling the kid into the seemingly sappy story with a shocking revelation” beat.
“8-Bit Christmas admirably claws its way up out of the gutter with a cute Princess Bride framework, but ultimately succumbs to the same flaws as those aforementioned recent attempts.”
It’s a decent premise. We’re over 30 years removed from the NES at this point, and Nintendo is a clearly memorable and still powerful beacon of holiday consumerism. One thing rings true throughout all this buffoonery: Kevin Jakubowski’s source material. Jakubowski isn’t just the author of the book of the same name; he also penned the film’s script.
It adds a sense of legitimacy to all this, and if there’s one thing the movie executes on, it’s heart. Amid some of the tepid dialogue are moments that are near carbon copies of old Christmas films, a bit that talks about how “the Power Glove sucked” is probably one of the best scenes in 8-Bit Christmas for long-term gaming fans as old media commonly glorified it as this mystical device. Those finger on the pulse moments are rare though, as the film ducks back into safety.
June Diane Raphael has the most commanding performance of 8-Bit Christmas, and honestly, I wish it was all about her. She owns every scene while several cast members go through the motions of a script that doesn’t give some of them anything to work with. This is one of those flicks where ‘80s songs do a lot of the heavy lifting. 8-Bit Christmas is an amalgamation of pretty much every “yester-year” era project before it, wrapped in a box of Christmas movies. But it’s also inoffensive, and occasionally, really fun. It’s easier to recommend to ‘80s and ‘90s kids, but families should have a decent time with it, even if they forget it the next week.