Might contain spoilers.
Somewhat sweet, somewhat nasty. I am exceedingly relieved that the film emphasizes that the dog recovers after someone drops a television on it, but I’d have been happier without that incident and indeed all the semi-regular bursts of violence. The approach to the past is loose—I’m sure there are a lot of linguistic anachronisms—and the colour grading is dreary. It really wasn’t necessary to show the dog defecating.
The plot meanders. There are too many unnecessary digressions and a significant amount of wasted potential. Jagorski goes from being nothing but a bully to suddenly not being a bully. Jake’s sister Lizzy seems important but has no role in the second half. Conor is only the catalyst for Jake’s epiphany. Timmy Keane disappears after an entire opening spent describing him. Even the adult versions of the other children fail to make an appearance in the end.
Still, the repeated misdirection over how Jake gets the Nintendo is well executed. There’s also a refreshing lack of sexualization, and of romance altogether. Steve Zahn makes me genuinely miss John when he’s gone. David Cross puts in a good showing as the amusing dealer who tells Jake, in an unexpectedly touching conversation, to care more about his family; it’s unfortunate that what follows is Jake trying not to be depressed as Christmas rather than him enjoying being with his family.
The young actors are adequate in their roles, although Winslow Fegley is a bit charmless as Jake. My favourite was Santino Barnard as Evan Olsen, who doesn’t get enough to do. The same goes for Jacob Laval as Conor. On the other hand, despite being a fan, I find Neil Patrick Harris hard to swallow as a father. The movie forces him into a rather boring mould as well, one that’s even less charming than his younger avatar.
On the whole, the film makes for an enjoyable watch, but could have been much better.