Christmas is the season of giving, but when it comes to Hollywood, it’s also the season of yearning. Whether it’s a Turbo Man action figure, Snow Vermont, or a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, the best Christmas movies always tend to involve characters chasing something that seems impossible to achieve without some sort of miracle.
In 8-bit Christmas, young Jake Doyle finds himself desperate for the gift that was at the top of almost every child’s wish list in the late 1980s: a Nintendo entertainment system. Directed by Michael Dowse (keep on going, Stuber), the film stars Neil Patrick Harris as adult Jake, who tries to teach his daughter the true meaning of the holidays by describing his own attempts to get a NES during the Christmas season in the 1980s.
Timmy’s failure Star Winslow Fegley, 12, plays young Jake, whose pursuit of an NES takes him and his best friends into one crazy situation after another, all in the hopes of finding a Nintendo under the Christmas tree of that year. The portrait of Jake’s parents in the film is Grace and Frankie actress June Diane Raphael and Happy Texas actor Steve Zahn, whose characters find their own Christmas plans shaped by their children’s must-have gifts.
Digital Trends spoke to Harris, Fegley, Raphael and Zahn about 8-bit Christmas and how the film’s themes – and the 1980s setting – resonated with each of them.
Digital Trends: I’ve always connected with children’s stories in holiday movies, but as I get older I connect with parent characters as well. What elements of the film did you really connect with, either in the story or in your role?
June Diane Raphaël: Well the moment I started reading the script I was like, “Oh, that’s my mom.” I mostly read my mom. There is so much about this character that reminds me of my mom, and I just loved her. I loved how she got overwhelmed with life and tried to keep it all and keep it together and do the cookies and the job and the snowy days and all the craziness in life. I really, really remember feeling like, “Oh, my mom is overwhelmed but loving and fun too.” She reminded me so much of my mother.
Neil Patrick Harris: I love the concept of connection. The idea that everyone is obsessed over the holidays with the gifts, the want and need for things, the deadlines and the packaging… those moments of camaraderie, time with family and connection that really kind of defines vacations.
Winslow Fegley: Sometimes you focus so much on what you want that you forget what you already have.
Raphael: And yes, it’s a fun thing to come to these movies now as an adult and from a different perspective. You just want to keep your kids safe and you want them to have the magic of Christmas and have what they want but also not have things you don’t know that you have. fear. So I got deeply attached to it.
You’ve been in such a wide array of movies over the years, Steve. What was it 8-bit Christmas who marked you?
Steve Zahn: I just thought [the father character] was such a classic dad and something different. I’ve never played someone like that. I loved that the script was that kind of simplistic story that looks like The great Escape: They’re just trying to get that one thing. That’s the whole story, and it’s the obstacles you have to overcome to get this thing that make it interesting.
I thought it was really smart and it made me laugh. And obviously, because that was the 80’s, and I’m also a product of the 80’s.
I watched the movie with my daughter and had to explain why the family was waiting to hear the school closing on the radio, or why they couldn’t order a Nintendo online. Did any of you find yourself doing this with some of the young actors because of the ’80s setting in the movie?
Raphael: The only thing I remember talking about that made me think, ‘Whoa, I’m in a different world from them’ was when we were talking about TV shows. I asked the children, “What shows do you watch? And they were like, “Um, YouTube? I was like, “Oh.” This one made me feel like a grandmother for sometimes turning on the TV and watching a TV show.
Harris: I had to explain it a bit to my own kids while we were watching the movie. Video game tech stuff, they can figure that out, but we talked about things like the lack of internet, the lack of immediacy, the lack of being able to ask Alexa what the weather is… Our kids were lamenting the fact. that they don’t I don’t have snowy days like this now.
Fegley: I was thinking about this too! I still have snowy days sometimes, but now that schools realize they can use Zoom, it’s like “Noooo! But sometimes it can still happen. While I was in Toronto to film this movie, they had to cancel my school once – even the Zoom part – because the internet connection was down. So it still worked. We still have a snowy day.
What about you, Winslow? What did you think of the NES and what was the life of children like in the 80s?
Fegley: Well, I knew what the NES was, because I’m kind of a video game geek. I love video games and play them a lot, but I didn’t really understand that it was kind of like the father of video games. I didn’t really know how important it was.
But I had a lot of fun playing a character in the 80s who lived in those… simpler times … When they couldn’t order things online and have them delivered to their doorstep. It was very fun.
Zahn: Yeah, Winslow is a pretty smart guy. If you raised something like that in the ’80s, he would say, “Yeah, I know all about it. He’s an old soul.
Harris: Ah, you know what? I had to explain some of the weird things to the kids. They didn’t quite get the whole idea of Cabbage Patch Kids. I was like, “They’re like American Girl dolls, but they’re made from spots in the dirt and they have belly buttons.” I… I wasn’t quite sure how to explain certain things sometimes.
Directed by Michael Dowse from a screenplay by Kevin Jakubowski, 8-bit Christmas premieres November 24 on the HBO Max streaming service.