To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, 8-Bit Christmas is a Christmas comedy film directed by Michael Dowse (Stuber), from a screenplay by Kevin Jakubowski (Assassination of a High School President). Featuring Neil Patrick Harris, Sophia Reid-Gantzert, Winslow Fegley, June Diane Raphael, David Cross, and Steve Zahn; the film is based on Jakubowski’s novel of the same name. The story follows Jake Doyle as he recounts to his daughter Annie how he managed to purchase a Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 1980s.
In Chicago, Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris) is out Christmas shopping with his daughter. While they are talking Jake gets many text messages from his daughter’s friends trying to get in touch with her. Annie (Sophia Reid-Gantzert) states that it would be better if she had her own phone to which Jake says no, although he admires her persistence. As Annie tells her father all the reasons she needs a phone Jake slips on a patch of ice. While lying on the ground his phone begins to ring and he hands it to Annie.
Arriving at his childhood home, Jake asks Annie if she wants to shoot hockey or build a snowman together. Annie sadly replies that she doesn’t want to. Jake thinks she is sad about not getting a phone but still wants her to have a great Christmas. With nobody home, Annie states that she is bored and ponders what she can do. Jake takes her to the living room and shows her his old Nintendo Entertainment System. When Annie asks how he got the Nintendo Jake recounts to his daughter how, as a child growing up in Batavia, Illinois in the late 1980s, how hard it was for him to get the illustrious system for Christmas.
I remember the first time I ever played a Nintendo. I was around six or seven and my older cousin had one in the closet. He pulled it out and let us play Duck Hunt. Even though by that point I had already played the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis I thought it was a blast and enjoyed using the NES Zapper to shoot at the 8-bit ducks on the television screen. Therefore, immediately I was able to connect with this story on an emotional level. Every kid remembers their first video game system. The first gaming system that was completely mine was the Playstation 2 I got from my grandma on my 13th birthday. I remember spending countless hours playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. So many hours in fact I forgot to bathe some weekends.
The Nintendo Entertainment System however is just the narrative hook to what is truly a heartfelt story. 8-Bit Christmas is very reminiscent of The Princess Bride and A Christmas Story. There’s an older character telling a story to a younger character filled with crazy characters and even crazier situations. So I’d say it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but as the saying goes “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Neil Patrick Harris is undoubtedly the biggest star in the film and for good reason. Harris’ charm makes Jake likable and relatable from the very first scene. People from my generation and before understand what it’s like to not have a cell phone with instant access to all the information you can possibly imagine. Yes, we had video games, but we also played outside, shopped at the mall, and went to the library. The idea of generational differences is a big part of this story. Jake’s dad John (Steve Zahn), grew up without any video games and built forts and tree houses with his friends. Something at the time jake did not understand. Now that he is a father he begins to understand a little more. Parents connecting and relating to their children is a message woven throughout this comedy.
Jake also is shown to be an unreliable narrator changing aspects of the story to make it more interesting to his daughter. Instances include changing the color of his helmet and totally fabricating the amount of eye protection he wore. The year isn’t unveiled at the beginning but any viewer who pays attention can figure out the story takes place during the winter of 1988. There is a scene in the movie in which a kid mentions Bruce Willis’ hit Christmas movie, Die Hard. That film hit theaters on July 15, 1988. This timeframe is proven later in the feature via a camera recording.
While nothing entirely new, this is still a wonderful Christmas story that can be enjoyed every year. The young cast is delightful and the generational message is a heartfelt one. I give 8-Bit Christmas a Decent 8.5/10. Although there is only one book, I could easily see this becoming a series. We never get to see the adult version of Jake’s younger sister Lizzie! Maybe she has a story to tell regarding a doll she really wanted.