8-Bit Christmas isn't going to change anyone's life or become a new holiday classic, but it's pretty cute and comes out in the eleventh hour to really smack you in the face with the feels.
Director: Michael Dowse
Summary: In 1980s Chicago, a ten-year-old sets out on a quest to get the Christmas gift of his generation – the latest and greatest video game system.
When it comes to movies that are centered around specific holidays, they aren't aiming to be something that you watch year-round. They are aiming to be something that you watch once or twice a year when it's time to celebrate said holiday. There is a new crop of them every year, and they usually range from terrible to pretty damn good. 8-Bit Christmas is very much on the pretty damn good end of the scale. There are a lot of things to like, but first and foremost, it is the group of kid actors that really push this movie from good to great. Winslow Fegley, who plays the young Jack, has what can only be called some "big theater kid energy." His face is wide and expressive, and the way he emotes are big and a bit exaggerated. However, it's the kind of things that you see from kids who have that kind of energy in real life, so it works. It also helps that he's supposed to be playing the kid version of Neil Patrick Harris, so that checks.
The rest of the kid group is a ton of fun as well, and while they are all caricatures of kids of the '80s [the nerd, the liar, those sorts of things], they are still people that you're going to enjoy spending time with. As the runtime goes on and one thing after another keeps these kids from getting their hands on their Nintendo, you're really rooting for them by the end. They really go through it all and do their best to make it happen in every possible way, and while it is funny when they fail, you're also hoping they succeed.
Harris is the one telling the story here, but this is a movie that is mainly centered on flashbacks, so he does a lot of narration, and we do cut back to him and his daughter in the present day several times as the story goes on. He's fine in the role, but the present-day stuff isn't really what we're here to watch. The adults and anyone who lived through the '80s will get a lot of the jokes and references almost right away, but this is a story being narrated to a kid in the present day. So the script makes sure to explain things so that the younger generation won't be lost as well. It's a fine line to walk, and while 8-Bit Christmas does lean a bit too hard on the nostalgia sometimes, the script by Kevin Jakubowski more or less threads the needle. It also manages to address the concerns of parents of that time when it came to video games that don't really demonize both sides too much. Obviously, the movie is more on the side of the kids, but considering the circumstances, you can see where the adults are coming from.
For almost all of its 97-minute runtime, you think you know where this movie is going, or at least you think you have a pretty good idea. The things leading up to the final scenes are good enough, but those final scenes really elevate 8-Bit Christmas into something pretty special. This is a movie that comes out of nowhere in the eleventh hour to get you in the feels, just like a good holiday movie should. This type of emotional gut-punch actually feels earned considering the entire film we just spent the whole time watching. There isn't any emotional manipulation on the part of the movie, and when the tears come, and they probably will, it's not going to feel unauthentic. The rest of the film is a comedy, but that ending really gets you where it hurts.
8-Bit Christmas isn't going to change anyone's life, and it probably won't be a new holiday classic for most people, but when it comes to new movies to watch this holiday season, you could do a lot worse. The kid actors in the flashbacks do a really good job, and it says a lot about director Michael Dowse that he was able to get such good performances from all of them that don't feel over the top in a bad way. It's well-paced and moves by in that breezy 97-minutes. It has a pretty good script that goes above and beyond when they could have aimed for the lowest common denominator, and the ending shows the respect that everyone on the creative team has not only for the adults watching their movie but the kids as well.