8-Bit Christmas has some warmth amid its goofy stabs at 1980s consumerism and hysteria.
8-Bit Christmas (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on December 3, 2021
Rating 3.5 /5
Let’s face it: A Christmas Story is dated. Sure, it still holds up as a Christmas classic but part of its initial appeal was that it tapped into childhood that attracted adults. The adults of the 1980s were kids in the 1950s, where A Christmas Story took place with a relatable story about a little boy wanting a Red Ryder BB-gun for Christmas more than anything. 8-Bit Christmas is essentially the updated version of this story, where the adults of today will get a warm sensation for a Christmas comedy that centers around a Nintendo Entertainment System.
It’s 1988 in a Chicago suburb and that the young Jake Doyle desires for Christmas is a Nintendo console. It’s a marvel of technology for the era that Jake could only get a minor lick of at the home of the rich neighbor kid Timmy Keane. Not content with bowing down to the most snotty kid on the block, Jake tries to formulate a plan to make sure that this Christmas he gets exactly what he wants. What starts as a Boy Scout plan to win the console soon turns into a full-blown heist with his friends.
Similar to A Christmas Story, this film is told by an elder millennial of the era. Neil Patrick Harris plays the older version of Jake, regaling his daughter with his Christmas tale of acquiring a Nintendo. Such a story may seem like an easy product placement for Nintendo, sure to evoke some tremors of the shameless promotion in the late-80s Nintendo-centric film The Wizard. And yet there’s an honesty to such obsession with a product. Though the film frames itself as an over-the-top vision of the past, the religious cult of Nintendo is an aspect that is spot-on. It also helps that Jake pokes fun at the 80s here and there, specifically during a scene where we’re led to think a dog has died (“What do you expect? It was the 80s.”).
The film succeeds at being a lot of fun due to both the writing and character chemistry. I enjoyed the defining elements of Jake’s parents, where his father (Steve Zahn) is an amateur carpenter obsessed with construction and his mother (June Diane Raphael) is a multitasking mess of a teacher. Jake’s friends also have their special quirks. There’s the kid who lies, the nerd with allergies, the strategic investor, and that weird kid who always seems to have some odd tidbit on hand for conversations. It’s a lot of fun to watch them all come together and find a means of getting their own Nintendo.
The exaggeration also doesn’t feel too over-the-top with some relatable moments. There’s a surreally silly moment when Jake becomes so transfixed on a Nintendo in a toy store that he starts hearing the console calling out his name. There’s an acknowledgment of how fearful parents became of Nintendo and the effect of video games on children. This leads to the rash decisions of banning Nintendo from the town and making the heist of secretly buying a Nintendo in the city a caper where the kids are worth rooting for.
Surprisingly, 8-Bit Christmas manages to have a real heart. By the time the third act rolls around, a crucial decision is made about which direction this picture will go. Is there a simple acquisition of the Nintendo or a more heartfelt end to this story? This movie takes the gamble on a more sentimental approach and, oddly enough, it works well. It caps the picture off in a meaningful way where the nostalgia is more on the elements of family and friends than Nintendo’s first big console in America.
8-Bit Christmas has some warmth amid its goofy stabs at 1980s consumerism and hysteria. It manages to be more than just a nostalgia bomb in the same sense as a Christmas story and is more than just a holiday shopping blitz akin to Jingle All The Way. It hits at just the right note for a film that can be as thoughtful as it is referential, making for a film that is sure to become a geek cult classic of the Christmas season.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.