Season’s streaming: ‘8-BIT CHRISTMAS,’ ‘RON’S GONE WRONG’ and other family films

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, well, sort of.

With the pandemic coming back like Willis Reed, many of us will be staying at home, which means family entertainment will be paramount to family sanity. As a result, a lot of movie titles come through the pipeline in any given week. With the many streaming options now available, it’s good to know about what’s out there to enjoy. Whether Disney+, Netflix, HBOMax, or any other service, here are some titles that can be enjoyed while the kids are home for the holidays.

One quick note: ENCANTO is now streaming on Disney+, and you can read more about it from FreshFiction’s own Courtney Howard here.

RON’S GONE WRONG – Streaming on both Disney+ and HBOMax

Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) is the only kid in his school without the latest tech craze, which are friendship androids known as B*Bots. His telemarketer father (voiced by Ed Helms) and his grandmother Donka (voiced by Olivia Colman) are desperate to give Barney the best birthday present they can, so they pay someone for B*Bot after store hours because they were going to dispose of it anyway.

Barney is incredibly grateful; however, the B*Bot (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) is clearly damaged and can’t do anything right. While taking it back to the Bubble store, the B*Bot proves more than useful in his own ways, so Barney decides to keep him around and calls him Ron. Word eventually gets out about Ron not following the code, so it’s up to Barney to save his new friend, while Ron helps him learn what it means to be a true friend.

RON’S GONE WRONG is a nice little story about friendship but also uses its plot points to cover everything from tech conglomerates using people’s data to social media personality. B*Bots are essentially just companions based on the traits and social accounts of their owners. It is a little too on the nose and gets clunky in the third act, but it never loses the entertainment. Barney and Ron roll to the beat of their own drum and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Grade: B-

RUMBLE – Exclusively streaming premiere for Paramount+

In a world where kaiju walk among the Earth and live freely with humanity, there is a pro wrestling federation for these monsters known as World Monster Wrestling, where they compete for The Big Belt while being coached by humans as each monster represents a specific town. The town of Stoker had the best champions in the monster Rayburn and his coach Jimbo Coyle until they tragically died at sea. The town finds a new champion in Tentacular (voiced by Terry Crews) until he bolts for a bigger and better city. Without their monster, the city won’t have any money and will go bankrupt. 

Jimbo’s daughter Winnie (voiced by Geraldine Viswanathan) comes up with a plan to find a new monster and save the town. Unfortunately, her only hope is Steve (voiced by Will Arnett), who has done nothing but get paid to take dives. But Winnie sees something in Steve, realizing that they grew up together and Steve is actually Rayburn Jr. They’ll have to embrace their own heritage to save the heritage of Stoker, and work through the ranks to get Tentacular in the ring.

RUMBLE tries to have that underdog story in a joint production between Paramount and WWE Studios, but everything just feels flat. The animation is great, and the monsters all have a unique design to set themselves apart. The moments that need more impact are glanced over to keep the movie going, and the voiceover doesn’t blend with the animation, sounding more dubbed than it should. For a movie that was put off release for two years, you’d think they would do all they could to go for the win instead of settling for the draw.

Grade: D+

A BOY CALLED CHRISTMAS – Streaming on Netflix

On Christmas Eve, Aunt Ruth (Maggie Smith) comes to watch her great nieces & nephews while their widower father must go to work. As they no longer enjoy Christmas since their mother’s passing, there are no decorations or anything to celebrate the holiday. This prompts Aunt Ruth to tell them the story of Nikolas, who would begin the traditions of Christmas. The film then goes back centuries to Finland, where Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) lives in a forest shack with his father Joel (Michael Huisman), who is also a widower.

Nikolas’ favorite story is one his mother told him of a magical village in the far north called Elfheim. In fact, the King (Jim Broadbent) has tasked several men, including Joel, of going off to bring back hope for the people. While Joel is gone, Nikolas lives with his mouse Miika and is under the cruel care of Aunt Carlotta (Kristen Wiig), who is so cruel that Nikolas decides to leave to find Elfheim. While on his journey, Miika (voiced by Stephen Merchant) begins to talk, and Nikolas befriends a reindeer that gives him a ride. But once he gets to where Elfheim should be, things aren’t what they appear to be, and Nikolas’ journey becomes something much greater.

Over the past few years, Netflix has come into its own with Christmas movies, and A BOY CALLED CHRISTMAS is no exception. Written & directed by Gil Kenan (MONSTER HOUSE), there is always a sense of grandeur while we trek with the protagonist. It is a beautifully scenic film, and lets the magic and wonder unfold as Nikolas discovers it. Elfheim’s scenes, anchored by performances from Sally Hawkins and Toby Jones, help Nikolas’ humanity come to fruition while giving Elfheim a new purpose to give the world the hope it desperately needs. And much like THE PRINCESS BRIDE, there are cutaways to Aunt Ruth and the kids, bantering about the story as she tells of its magic.

A BOY CALLED CHRISTMAS can be a Christmas classic if given the chance, it’s that good.

Grade: A-

8-BIT CHRISTMAS – Streaming on HBOMax

Remember the toy you wanted the most as a kid when you opened gifts on Christmas morning? The hope that Santa knew how good you were, or the hope that Santa didn’t catch how bad you were that one time when you dumped a bunch of cleaning products down the toilet with your brother. And then you opened those presents to find exactly what you wanted that year, and all was right with the world. 8-BIT CHRISTMAS tries to capture that nostalgic feeling and how one kid would do anything to get the new Nintendo Entertainment System.

As Jake (Neil Patrick Harris) gets to his parents’ house for the holidays with his bored daughter Annie, who is constantly bugging him about getting her own smart phone. While waiting on the rest of the family to get in, he decides to break out his old Nintendo to pass the time. As they play Paperboy, Jake tells the story of when he was a kid and the lengths he and his friends went through to nab a Nintendo. 

Cut to young Jake (Winslow Fegley) and his group of friends clamoring to play the only Nintendo in town at the rich kid’s house. After their source gets cut off due breaking the TV after losing to a girl, it becomes apparent that they will need to do what they can to get their fix. Jake tries asking his parents (Steve Zahn and June Diane Raphael) but they don’t want video games in the house. Every attempt gets taken away and then the parents get involved to get video games banned in the county. How will Jake achieve success and get the perfect Christmas gift?!

8-BIT CHRISTMAS does well to keep the story grounded while not delving too much into 80s low-hanging fruit. All the nostalgia pretty much revolves around Nintendo, like blowing the cartridge or holding your gun up to the TV glass. It loses some of the Christmas spirit and gets to feel a bit greedy as the movie goes along but manages to pull out the save at the end, becoming a story about family bonding and the things we miss with our gift-wrapped tunnel vision. Because family is what makes the holidays.

Grade: B-

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