Parents' Guide to

8-Bit Christmas

By Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 8+

Fun '80s nostalgia tour has mild language, violence.

Movie PG 2021 118 minutes
8-Bit Christmas Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 9+

Based on 9 parent reviews

age 10+

Just ok

Both ADHD and dyslexia are mentioned with a negative connotation in passing, and towards the end of the movie there's the absence of a grandparent that may be hard for kids (or adults) who have lost someone recently and were hoping to watch a heartwarming comedy. The projectile vomiting after a child eats something that the movie states they're allergic to (perhaps not a great example to set for any kids with serious allergies) is over-the-top; this is not a movie you can watch with popcorn or pizza. While there were some positive messages about working hard towards a goal and caring about a sibling even if you antagonize each other, this one isn't a film I enjoyed enough to watch again and I wasn't always comfortable with how characters were portrayed and interacted. My 9 year old enjoyed it, my 11 year old cried at the end and said he wishes we had watched an action movie instead.
age 7+

Context is important

It’s easy to cherry pick lines, scenes, or jokes from a movie and get offended. If people look for a reason to be upset, then they will find a way to make it happen. But if you actually watch this entire film, pay attention to it instead of having it on in the background, and are old enough to recognize and appreciate the underlying commentary on life in the 80’s compared to today, then it’s also very easy to enjoy this film for what it is — social commentary on how times have changed, but the things that are actually important in life are still the same. Another reviewer points out a kid who killed a dog and states, “ Maybe the people that made this movie need to spend some time with children with ADHD and see how hard they work. They are not spoiled, violent, maniacs.” First this review is untrustworthy because if you continue watching the movie then you learn that the dog survives the fallen TV with just a few broken bones — they even show it wearing some signed casts and a cute little hospital gown later. Furthermore if this viewer is actually being honest in their opinions, then they’re just as naive as all of the parents who were in the town hall during the scene in question, as everybody began repeating the following line with their mouths agape after hearing of the child’s ADD: “Wow, that’s an extremely rare diagnosis!” Because yes, it was barely heard of and therefore poorly understood in the 80’s, as opposed to today when one in five parents in that room would have a child with the same over-diagnosed condition and a wealth of their own knowledge to share on the subject. Today the spoiled family would have been laughed out of the town hall after sharing such a lame excuse for their child’s poor upbringing and violent outbursts, but back then people didn’t know any better. THAT was the joke — it was social commentary about a diagnosis that was once considered shocking, but feels so mundane today in comparison. For those of us who were there it might not seem all that long ago, but when the spotlight shines on how poorly we understood things that have since become everyday parts of modern life, then WHAM — all of a sudden it feels like you’re looking back at the Stone Age, and we’re all being called out for how little we actually understood. The movie doesn’t want you to laugh at the brat’s diagnosis. Rather, the joke wants us to laugh at OURSELVES as we recognize the embarrassing naivety of our past. The narrator himself even states at one point, in no unclear terms, that the 80’s didn’t understand very many social issues the way that we do today. Another reviewer also points out that a lot of emphasis is put on “weird” kids, seemingly implying that the weird kid trope is just used for a bunch of cheap laughs. However the narrator eventually explains as clear as day that the kids who he once thought were strange turned out to be the coolest kids he knew once he actually spent some time getting to know them. He explains that living happily as their true selves, instead of being overly worried about societal norms and always giving into peer pressure, actually made the weird kids a sort of “rebel” — the coolest type of kid there is. It’s this realization — that the coolest people are those who embrace what makes them different, instead of trying to hide it — that inspires the narrator to grow more confident and finally speak up for himself (and also to stand up for his mom when confronting the school bully). The weird kids become the inspirational heroes, simply for allowing themselves to be themselves. In a day where childhood anxiety is skyrocketing, more kids than ever could stand to hear that message right now. Finally, remember that this whole story is being told by an unreliable narrator. He changes dates, names, and historical details on the fly throughout the film. Sometimes because he forgets exactly how things occurred, sometimes to keep things more kid friendly. But remember that sometimes he also adds some flair for dramatic effect. Yes his dad punches an elf and pushes him off of an escalator during a chase sequence, but that isn’t necessarily glorifying the violent masculinity that people associate with outdated dad tropes as one reviewer alleges. We’re talking about the same dad who literally says “God bless it” whenever he gets frustrated. His action at the mall is clearly just an embellishment by the narrator, thrown into a silly chase sequence for some shock value. Before reading too much into it, remember that a Nintendo system comes to life and talks to the kid too, the whole city chant’s the kid’s name after he gets a high score on a game, and a Nintendo explodes into a ball of fire when crushed. The narrator is demonstrating that even when stories are based on true events, they are still a work of fiction. If you can’t suspend your disbelief for two hours though, then maybe this film — or movies in general, for that matter — simply aren’t meant for you. And that’s okay too! At the end of the day this is a coming of age story about overcoming the awkwardness of childhood, embracing the importance of family, working hard for the things that you want in life, learning how to see past your perception of flaws in order to recognize the values in everybody, being grateful for the things that you already have, making the time to show others some kindness instead of falling into the trap of being too caught up with yourself, and the importance of feeling comfortable with loving yourself too. Most, if not all of these lessons are signaled and fully spelled out in words so clear that even a seven year old would easily take all of them away from a single viewing.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (9 ):
Kids say (6 ):

This '80s nostalgia tour might appeal more to parents than kids, but its goofy tale of childhood shenanigans is fun for most ages. Anyone with a connection to the 1980s will appreciate the references in 8-Bit Christmas, from first-generation video games to the Cabbage Patch Kid craze, slideshows, roller rinks, leg warmers, baseball cards, triumphant Footloose music, and teachers insisting the Dewey Decimal System will always be vital for finding information. A boy's ADD diagnosis is described as "extremely rare" and parents protest the dangers of video games. Younger viewers will probably enjoy the sarcastic tone a present-day kid takes about the past, but the naivete of the '80s scenes and the way the kids roam freely in packs and hatch wild plots completely out of view of adults could leave a lasting impression.

Every generation seems to recall its own childhood years as more innocent, and in most cases, they're probably right. What this film shows is a time when kids had to use their own ingenuity and work hard to get coveted gifts and possessions, as opposed to just badgering Dad for a smart phone (as the present-day kid does). It ends as a tribute to a parent, a conclusion that doesn't feel entirely justified by the rest of the tale. The kid actors are great, especially star Winslow Fegley (Nightbooks), who never gives the impression he's acting, and the oversized, over-the-top elementary school bully played by Cyrus Arnold. Expect some political incorrectness by today's standards, delivered with an affectionate wink and nod.

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