8-Bit Christmas (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A mixed Christmas tale

“8-Bit Christmas” is neither sweet nor naughty enough to generate some good laughs from me. While it wants to be one of those nostalgic childhood Christmas tales, it is rather too broad and cartoonish in terms of story and characters, and it is often a bit too self-conscious in distracting ways. Although it also wants to be naughty during a number of silly and absurd scenes, these moments feel rather cheap and artificial in my humble opinion, and you will be just mildly amused from time to time during your viewing.

The story mainly revolves around a young boy named Jake Doyle (Winslow Fegley), and his wacky Christmas tale of 1988 is shown to us bit by bit as adult Jake, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is enthusiastically describing it to his young daughter. During that time, those 8-bit Nintendo video games were pretty cool and exciting to many kids around Jake’s age, and we see many neighborhood kids including him gathering around the house of some rich little prick, who has been so far the only one who has a Nintendo video game player in their neighborhood. Although he does not get much chance to play those Nintendo video games, Jake is more awed and impressed as watching that rich kid having a fun in front of him and several other kids, and he comes to yearn more for having a Nintendo game player of his own.

However, the situation is not particularly good for Jake at present. Although they are preparing a lot for the upcoming Christmas season, neither of his parents cares that much about what their son wants to have on Christmas. While his father, who is usually occupied with some private carpentry projects of his, wants Jake to play outside more instead of playing video games, his mother does not approve much of video games as a schoolteacher, and both of them seem to be more focused on getting what Jake’s younger sister wants, which is incidentally another nostalgic item in the film.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to a bunch of other characters at Jake’s elementary school, who are more or less than silly caricatures instead of being realistic enough to hold our attention. In case of a school bully in the story, you may be amused to see this character being played by an actor much older than other young performers around him, but I must say that this character becomes more tiresome whenever he enters, and that is the main reason why that eventual payoff moment between this character and Jake later in the story does not work as well as intended.

Anyway, every student in the school is quite excited when they come to learn that there is an opportunity for getting a Nintendo video game player, and that is naturally followed by a series of comic moments as Jake and many other kids in the neighborhood try their best to win in their increasingly intense competition. Once he receives some helpful tip from his younger sister, Jake goes all the way for attaining his goal, but, of course, that turns out to be a lot more challenging than expected, and, this is not much of a spoiler, he is quite disappointed by what he gets in the end.

Nevertheless, Jake does not give up at all. He and several schoolmates subsequently concoct a plan involved with their upcoming field trip to Chicago, and the mood naturally becomes cheerfully suspenseful as he has to deal with several obstacles while helped a bit by his accomplices. At one point, one of them deliberately makes himself pretty sick in advance for buying some time for Jake, and I will let you decide whether this is merely gross or quite hilarious.

Watching how the movie arrives at its expectedly sentimental finale, I could not help but think of Bob Clark’s wonderful classic Christmas family film “A Christmas Story” (1983), which is a lot better movie in many aspects. Yes, the main characters of “A Christmas Story” are also broad archetypes to say the least, but they are depicted with recognizable human qualities, and we accordingly become more amused and touched along the story. In case of “8-Bit Christmas”, we only observe shallow comic caricatures merely doing silly things on the screen, and I must tell you that none of their supposedly humorous moment reaches to the sweet and sublime hilarity of “A Christmas Story.”

Anyway, Winslow Fegley, the younger brother of Oakes Fegley, and a number of other young cast members of the film do their best with their respective roles, and it is a shame that the movie does not utilize more of their natural presence while only having them stuck with their glaringly flat characters. In case of several notable adult performers in the film, Steve Zahn and June Diane Raphael are also regrettably under-utilized as their good efforts are often hindered by their underdeveloped supporting parts, and Neil Patrick Harris acquits himself fairly well despite his thankless role as the narrator of the story.

On the whole, “8-Bit Christmas” is not entirely without fun and entertainment, but I doubt whether it will be remembered as long as “A Christmas Story” or “Bad Santa” (2003), which can be a better alternative for you if you want a truly naughty fun for the Christmas season instead of having a sweet fun from the former. Sure, the movie reminded me of how serious I was once about getting what I wanted on Christmas, but, unlike “A Christmas Story”, it only came to scratch the surface of that childhood memory of mine, and that is all.

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