8-Bit Christmas (2021) — A Christmas Story for a gaming generation

“It was like winning more school.”

Justin’s rating: A winner is you!

Justin’s review: In this truly blatant retelling of A Christmas Story, Neil Patrick Harris tells his daughter the epic story of how he got his Nintendo Entertainment System in the late ’80s. While I sincerely doubt that only one kid in a town would’ve had an NES (those things were everywhere by ’87 and ’88), I do empathize with young Jake’s overwhelming desire to obtain one.

I don’t want to “kids these days have it so good,” but kids these days have it so good. My children have access to more games on more platforms than I could’ve ever dreamed of when I was younger. Most everyone I knew had a single console and a handful of games — and that was it. And like Jake in this movie, I desperately wanted the NES (even though I never got one). It was the single most amazing, must-have item of a decade full of hit toys and Christmas catalog wishes.

So even as I’m rolling my eyes that 8-Bit Christmas is Christmas Story redux — the desired toy, the flashback narration, the gang of friends, the town bully, hometown traditions — I’m still watching it and even kind of digging it. (There’s also a bit of Princess Bride, with the dad gradually winning a kid over with a long meandering tale as a framing device.)

The writers definitely remembered some of the highlights of living young in the ’80s, like hanging out at the rich kid’s house, the obsession with novelty gadgets, playing king of the mountain, hoping for snow days, and watching those hardcore action flicks that were not age-appropriate at all.

(I also loved a running gag where the dad, retelling the story, would gloss over how little we used safety precautions back then. Who else remembers sitting in the middle of the front seat of your car? I do!)

Desperate for a Nintendo of his own so that he could stop lusting after others’, Jake devises all sorts of plans to make it happen. Since his parents are convinced that video games make brains “ooze out of noses” and his sister is undercutting the homebrew campaign, he’s got to look elsewhere. You know, such as entering a wreath-selling contest to get a free NES or pooling money with the neighborhood friends to stealthily buy one.

It’s easy to see how 8-Bit Christmas could’ve taken the lazy route to make obvious, Big Bang Theory-type references and play them off as jokes, but I’ll posit that this film actually works for its nostalgia. A whole lot of this rings true to the era, with playful jabs thrown at kids’ heightened reality, quirky family relationships, and how Christmas expectations could sometimes let us down. But maybe there are better gifts than the one we get fixated upon?

Therefore, I’m giving this Christmas flick a thumbs up. It may be derivative in so many ways, but I didn’t mind due to the humor, Harris’ affable narration, a synthy ’80s soundtrack, surprisingly decent child actors, a strong ending, and the sheer joy of growing up as a video game generation. It’s also a good family-friendly flick, so it might just go on my annual rotation.

Didja notice?

  • No don’t blow into the cartridges!
  • “The year was… the late ’80s!”
  • No kids wore helmets in the ’80s
  • “Allergic to bees and Spaghetti-Os. Probably has to go home soon.”
  • “It was both — Tom Cruise and diarrhea.”
  • You can get moms to agree to stuff if you give them three things to do
  • I love how much this movie shows how unsafe we were back then
  • Oh that little sister is infuriating
  • The Power Glove… it’s so bad and requires Tae Kwon Do training and ultimately sucked
  • The boombox intro
  • Haha coach showed up
  • That’s one dead dog (“There’s a DEAD DOG in this story?”)
  • “It could be 20 below and a Soviet attack on the way, and we’d still have school.”
  • The girls boots Jake had to wear: “They were also flowered and French.” (And have their own soundtrack.)
  • Jake making the chugga-choo-choo with spoon feeding the old guy was so cute
  • “One woman punched her grandma, right in the throat”
  • The talking Nintendo
  • Jake’s Ferris Bueller beret
  • JAKE DOYLE NINTENDO MASTER
  • Coupon-cutting mom
  • The elf tossed over the side of the escalator
  • The long retainer slide and that great synth score
  • “What’s a roller rink?”
  • The Billy Ripkin swear word card
  • That weird kid is way too good at being weird
  • OK that puke bit made me laugh pretty hard
  • The over-the-shoulder camcorder
  • LiteBrite is a lame gift, yes

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