Ben Abraham’s review published on Letterboxd:
Director Michael Dowse has been fairly hit and miss lately and his continuation into streaming provides another underwhelming, often one-noted film.
It’s hard to dislike such a harmless, idealistic film but 8-bit Christmas can get quite straining. I was never fully charmed by the films gimmick which vitally made the film personally feel quite inaccessible as a whole. The cast certainly aren’t to blame for the films looseness, Dowse gets a lot out of the young cast particularly Winslow Fegly. Of course the wider ensemble of adults are fantastic as Steve Zahn, Neil Patrick Harris and David Cross tend to be. Visually the film works, Dowse captures the 80s nostalgia well, there’s a clear (but somewhat off putting) contrast between the time periods.
That being said the 1980s ‘nostalgia’ filmmaking can eventually feel like overkill and the film itself is quite one-noted. The film’s shtick becomes more frustrating than charming. The story is fairly lazy in structure, the framing device of Patrick Harris reading the story is mundane and overused, it just never felt natural. Films like the Princess Bride can tell a fantastical story similarly but without taking away from the magic of the film, however on this occasion every time the film was drawn back to the present day it felt like the story was forestalling and the pace of the film was suddenly slowed. The framing gives very little room for the film to feel like anything but simple nostalgic filmmaking. The Christmas element is also quite secondary, which is unfortunate but forgivable. I doubt that with more of a prominent hold on Christmas the films narrative problems would dematerialise.