"8-Bit Christmas" stars Neil Patrick Harris, Winslow Fegley, June Diane Raphael, David Cross, and Steve Zahn. Released on HBO Max on November 24, 2021, the film is about a boy who sets out to get a Nintendo Entertainment System.
The film is directed by Michael Dowse, who also directed films such as "FUBAR", "Goon", "Stuber", and "Coffee & Kareem". It is based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Jakubowski. It's never too early to celebrate Christmas, especially during Thanksgiving. We all had that feeling of getting our hands on that popular item for the holidays, mainly a new gaming system. It was a feeling that had us doing whatever it takes to get that specific gift for ourselves or our loved ones. Trust me. I've been there. It's a tradition that has happened for many Christmases. The 1980s is no exception, especially when you take the Nintendo Entertainment System into account. This latest comedy from director Michael Dowse depicts a family-friendly representation of that scenario while attempting to become the next holiday classic for Warner Brothers. The film's concept got me into watching it, but it also made me skeptical due to Dowse's involvement. Following some decent movies like "Goon" and "Stuber", the filmmaker fumbled extremely hard with Netflix's "Coffee & Kareem", a tasteless film that's as painfully humorless as its title. At least, in my eyes. Dowse's recent film did look a bit more tolerable than that train wreck based on the trailer, but as usual, my expectations were kept low just in case the same didn't apply to the final result. With that said, let's see if the film is good enough to start the holidays early.
The film focuses on Jake Doyle (Harris), a father who tells his daughter one of his finest childhood memories. In the late 1980s, a young Jake (Fegley) had his eyes set on Nintendo's brand new gaming system. He made it his mission to make sure that he gets the console for Christmas. Although, it is easier said than done as Jake will have to survive every obstacle imaginable to receive the ultimate prize. Think of this film as "A Christmas Story", but instead of a kid wanting a BB gun, you got a child seeking to get their hands on a video game system. At least with that, you don't have to worry about your kid shooting their eyes out. However, you do have to worry about their addiction. Warner Brothers has a pretty good track record in providing plenty of classics to spread some holiday cheer, especially for families. Whether it's films like "A Christmas Story" and "Elf" or television specials like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer", the studio has something for everyone to watch every holiday season. Of course, it takes more than just Christmas cheer to make a film or television special a holiday tradition. It also needs a good story, plenty of humor and charm, and a tiny hint of imagination. Those are the key ingredients crucial to making this film worthy enough to earn a spot in the "Holiday Hall of Fame". Fortunately for me, "8-Bit Christmas" just happened to have those ingredients. While it doesn't reach the same heights as the other holiday classics like "Elf" or even "Home Alone", the film managed to accomplish something that "Home Sweet Home Alone" failed to do: provide a fun, nostalgic, and charismatic holiday treat for the ages. The most common flaw that would probably bug every viewer is that it shared the same plot as the 1983 holiday classic. The kid wants a popular item for Christmas and is determined to get it, with the events being narrated by the older version of that kid. That's it. Despite its unoriginality, the story in "8-Bit Christmas" has enough Christmas cheer to deliver some consistent laughs and an appealing sense of innocence. The film's screenplay by Kevin Jakubowski (the same person who wrote the novel it's based on) not only paid respectable homage to the kid-centered movies from the 1980s, but it also contained a healthy mixture of comedy and heart that's as joyful as playing Super Mario Brothers. More importantly, it had a heartfelt message that would surely resonate with many young viewers who are excited to get something for Christmas themselves. The cast did pretty well with their performances, including Neil Patrick Harris, who channeled his inner Ralphie Parker to narrate the film's events regarding his role as the adult version of Jake. Long story short, I was pleased with the final result. He's no Jean Shepherd, but he came pretty close. Winslow Fegley also did a fine job with his performance as Jake, and Steve Zahn once again proved himself to be a likable presence onscreen in terms of his role as John Doyle, Jake's father. I also appreciated Michael Dowse for not making me want to rip my ears off. The film saw Dowse seamlessly blending its sincere moments with child-like wonder and humorous dialogue, which might be more suitable for him than what he did with "Coffee & Kareem". I was slightly disappointed that he missed a huge opportunity to throw some visual video game gags into its tone. This could've been the holiday version of "Scott Pilgrim" if he'd done that. Otherwise, the humor we got now was good enough to earn my laughs.
Overall, "8-Bit Christmas" is cheerful and witty enough to earn itself a high score, even though it's far from the next Christmas classic. Its derivative plot may have cost it some points, but that didn't stop me from playing this game further. This is another worthy film to watch during the holiday season thanks to its entertaining cast, Dowse's suitable direction, and its blend of comedy and heart. So if you and your family are looking for something new to watch this holiday season and have HBO Max, try giving this one a shot. It's no "Christmas Story", but it's also not something that'll rot your brain like our video games.