MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET1994"If you can't believe, if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed for a life dominated by doubt."
-- Kris Kringle
Miracle on 34th Street is a 1994 film directed by Les Mayfield that serves as a remake of the 1947 film of the same name. As the film opens, we see Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins) trying to organize the Cole's Thanksgiving Day Parade. After finding that her current Santa Claus, a man named Tony Falacchi (Jack McGee), is inebriated, she finds a man off the street named Kris Kringle (Richard Attenborough) to step into the role. It soon becomes evident that Kris believes himself to be the one and true Santa Claus, much to the disbelief of most of the people around him. However, after a rival store company sets Kris into a plot to have him committed to a mental institution, all the Christmas hope that Kris may have brought to his friends may be a little bit lost. When he's brought to trial for his assault charges, the hearing soon turns into a debate over whether or not Kris is actually the real Santa as he claims himself to be.
Because there are so many Christmas stories that have seen multiple cinematic interpretations, it was only a matter of time that I would attempt a type of compare-and-contrast. While I could have easily gone with a couple of different versions of A Christmas Carol, considering there are so many adaptations, but I chose to use the two most famous versions of Miracle on 34th Street instead. As with any remake, there are bound to be similarities and differences galore, so this review may very well work best if you read it in connection with my review of the 1947 film as well.
The first thing I noticed about this particular adaptation is that it's definitely crafted on a grander scale, as is often the case with remakes. The film is longer than the original, and it just feels a little bit bigger. While I can understand the reasoning for making the film a little bit larger, I was rather fond of the minimalist approach taken by the 1947 film. Still, the largeness of this film isn't all that off-putting, and we actually get to see a grander side of New York in the late 20th-century. Everything is a little bit bigger and a little more colorful, and the Christmas season is alive and flourishing in the bustling streets. It does well to set the tone of the film.
As you can probably gather from the above synopsis of the film, we're basically getting the same storyline as the original movie. That being said, the screenplay is drastically different from the original. There are a few twists and turns that play out a little bit differently, and there are certain characters who receive more or less importance than before. One of the most glaring additions is the fact that we're seeing a legitimate love story between Dorey and her beau Bryan Bedford (Dylan McDermott). A lot of time is spent on their relationship this time around, while in the first film, it served as more of a footnote. In a way, it takes away from the film's core story, so I can't really say I was a fan of this particular subplot. We're also seeing more of an in-depth look at the opposing companies' attempts to sidetrack Cole's in this film. They even go as far as to spur Kris towards his ultimate legal issues, whereas Kris brought them on himself in the original picture. Most disappointing, however, is the fact that little Susan Walker (Mara Wilson) takes a complete back seat to the goings-on this time around. I thought the connection between Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood in the first film was one of the most successful bits, but Attenborough and Wilson is almost non-existent. These are just a few examples of the changes made for this remake. You're more than welcome to watch the two and compare them yourself.
The level of the performances is relatively solid, but it's nowhere near the greatness exhibited in this film's predecessor. Attenborough does good job, but he brings a little too me uch anger to ththe role of Kris Kringle. He plays right into the antagonists' claims that he could fly off the handle at any moment. There's just a little bit too much menace in this particular Kris Kringle. Perkins and McDermott do well, but their roles seem a little too forced, despite the fact that they're entirely likable in their own way. The film's best performance probably goes to Robert Prosky, who plays Judge Henry Harper, as you can see that he's actively having fun with his role. Like I said: the acting isn't bad; it's just a little too commonplace to be considered all that great.
Ultimately, Miracle on 34th Street falls down the wayside just like so many other remakes have before and since. It's so difficult to remake a classic and have it live up to the original, and in a way, it's a little unfair to compare the two. At the end of the day, this film is great holiday fare, even if it's a little ridiculous. There are a couple fantastic scenes - be on the lookout for Kris's conversation with a deaf girl in sign language and for the shots of the citizens showing their support for Santa - that really pull at your heartstrings, so this film is by no means a travesty. However, if you do need to choose between the two, I personally believe you should go with the original 1947 film.
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