In this day and age, it’s extremely difficult to create a classic holiday/Christmas movie. Ones like It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Home Alone have become so ingrained in the public psyche that it takes something extremely memorable to make a dent in the regular rotation.
The latest holiday movie contender is 8-Bit Christmas, which takes more than a little inspiration from A Christmas Story. The film is built around an adult Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris), who has come home for Christmas, telling his daughter the story about how he got a Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 1980s.
Just like in A Christmas Story, the younger Jake (Winslow Fegley) is desperate to receive this certain item for Christmas. Seemingly every adult in his life, from his parents (Steve Zahn and June Diane Raphael) to his teachers, say that video games are bad for kids. Naturally, that only spurs Jake and his friends to use a number of increasingly bold measures to try to get the popular item themselves.
Directed by Michael Gowse and written by Kevin Jakubowski, the film has all the hallmarks of a fun holiday movie, with a few twists thrown in. Having parents or kids vying to secure the hot holiday gift has been done before (Jingle All the Way), but having it be a Nintendo (and for Jake’s sister, a Cabbage Patch doll) creates that extra bit of nostalgia for a certain generation, many of whom are now raising kids of their own.
The filmmakers also do a great job of striking the balance between adults being a frustration for the kids by denying them what they want, and the kids being proactive and taking matters into their own hands. Their solutions — a wreath-selling contest and a field trip excursion that has the feeling of a heist — are a lot of fun and go down roads that haven’t been explored in other similar films.
Because it’s a movie aimed at kids, you have to just go with certain elements. Parents banding together to try to stop all video game systems from being sold is far-fetched, as is the presence of a giant, 6-foot fifth grade bully. But even over-the-top things like that add to the pleasure of the story, giving it a tall tale feel that makes their quest seem more impossible than it was.
A movie like this require great casting for the kids roles, and they do well across the board. Fegley is part of an acting family (his brother Oakes starred in films like Pete’s Dragon and Wonderstruck), and he has a presence that keeps his heightened role grounded. Harris, Zahn, and Raphael fill the adult roles well, doling out sincerity and exaggeration in equal measure.
8-Bit Christmas is not the most original holiday film, but it earns points for the fun in its storytelling and performances. Time will tell if it joins the holiday movie rotation, but it’s good enough to be given a chance.
8-Bit Christmas is now streaming on HBO Max.