- Directed by Les Mayfield
- November 18, 1994 (US)
A young lawyer and a little girl must prove that an elderly gentleman is Santa Claus.
Why remake something that was nearly perfect to begin with? Not sure but the desire to poorly reheat something that was delicious gave us this version of Miracle on 34th Street back in 1994. Gimbels from the original had gone out of business in ’87 and Macy’s wisely passed on participation with the official statement of “we feel the original stands on its own and could not be improved upon.” That ignores them being nice enough to allow their name to be used in the ’73 television version. They were replaced with two fictitious stores: Cole’s (not Kohl’s) in place of Macy’s with Gimbel’s being replaced with Shopper’s Express which sounds like something that would not be aiming for the same demographic as Cole’s.
Which leads me to the first new plot element. Rather than have the corporate rivalry demonstrated before we have a plot by the Shopper’s Express owner (Joss Ackland) to take over Macy’s. Nice idea but it never feels like an actual threat to Macy’s or really much of an impediment to any of the characters. It is an inconvenience at best that speeds an almost predictable confrontation between a quickly forgotten minor character and Kris Kringle (Richard Attenborough). That should have been a warning sign right there.
Based on language early in the film between Dorey Walker (Elizabetshaky,kins) and Donald Shellhammer (Simon Jones) Cole’s financial situation is extremely shaky and Christmas sounds like a make-or-break moment that hinges on Santa (Richard Attenborough) though that never gets addressed directly. Shellhammer even says something like if they don’t have a very good Christmas they’re all out of a job which raises the question of how can Cole’s afford a lavish parade even if it is an annual tradition? Why Shopper’s Express felt a need to get involved in any way makes no sense as heavy sales as well as heavier than usual marketing on their part would be enough to draw shoppers from their rival and cause failure. They did not need to quite possibly break the law and put themselves in legal jeopardy.
Miracle on 34th Street gets kind of worse from there. This is not a terrible film but it’s not really that good. It is like getting GoBots when you wanted Transformers. I didn’t put Cy-Kill on my list. I wrote Megatron! There was very little wrong with the original film. It’s a heartfelt relationship film about recapturing hope and joy in life.
I found the conversion of Dorey (not Doris) and Susan (Mara Wilson) rather quick. In the original all the way up to very near the end they both had their share of doubts, but here they were convinced that Kris Kringle was in fact Santa Claus well before the end. Also the ending seems to imply that Kris is not actually Santa but rather a slightly loopy elderly gentleman who works to do good with a mention that he has gone overseas. In the original there is the strong implication bordering on confirmation that they indeed were dealing with Santa the whole time and Santa interacted with the rest of the world during his off season.
In some instances this version of Miracle on 34th Street is almost word for word in dialogue but presented in a different way. The Total Recall redo did something similar. Doing such is a strong reminder to the audience of the original and makes the newer version feel like a weak imitation. I’ve seen the original numerous times and while I may not have it memorized, I know it well enough to know when I’m hearing repeated lines. Allison Janney even shows up doing her version of the scene originally performed far better by the great character actress Thelma Ritter.
We have a decent cast. Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Mara Wilson, Dylan McDermott, J. T. Walsh, Simon Jones, James Remar, Jane Leeves, William Windom, Robert Prosky, and Joss Ackland were all good choices. They do well with their parts, but they cannot make this feel like more than a poorly conceived retread. It lacks heart and the overall sweetness of that from which it draws its name.
What should be an uplifting element with the city coming together and rallying behind Kris Kringle feels forced and perhaps a tad pointless in the story. His bond with the city or his coworkers is not ever built towards. It just suddenly is there. They are all just rallying around him to try and keep him out of the mental hospital. And those clips and every element done to show that bond with the city really amounts to nothing. It has no influence whatsoever on the elements of what a child displayed in the film. The resolution is because of a Christmas card and a dollar bill.
The original ending worked because it was cute and creative and used the law to get the job done as well as giving a satisfying out of the situation by that point nobody-even those that caused it-wanted in. It was also a sweet statement on belief.
Miracle on 34th Street is well directed and certainly looks good but it’s nothing special. It’s not a train wreck but if you think this will be something as special or unique as the original it won’t be. It’s good family viewing but nothing great. I will call this a tepid if you want.