To give the movie its deserved credit, Richard Attenborough is a wonderful successor to the iconic Kris Kingle as played by Edmund Gwenn in George Seaton's seminal Christmas classic "Miracle on 34th Street" and Mara Wilson is just as good as the little girl who doesn't believe in Santa but wishes she could and only asks for a proof. In fact, she embodies our very attitude toward the film, we love the original, we want to embrace this one with the same enthusiasm, so we're waiting for the script to charm us.
And it's only fair to have high anticipations, the film was made in 1994 when commercialism was as preeminent as five decades later, and written by John Hughes who could give a subtle dimension of satire and benign cynicism, all these elements could have given an edge to the 1994 remake. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really manages to deliver: when it's good, it's just as good as the original, the rest of the time, it's just a pale copy that fails to capture the the taste of its era. This film could have been made in the 80's or the 70's as well because the story is timeless, but not in the 'appealing' meaning of the word.
It's incredible but "Miracle on 34th Street" manages to feel more dated than its glorious predecessor, the 1947 version starring Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O'Hara and young Natalie Wood. Maybe the remake was liable to feel dated because the 1947 classic was already ahead of its time for its take on Christmas consumerism, its portrayal of a divorced mother and a precocious girl (tired tropes today), so any attempt to duplicate the charm of the movie was likely to fail... unless it tried to modernize the original premise a little bit.
The problem with Les Mayfield's movie and John Hughes' screenplay is that the two men seem to be in awe with the original and never really dare to make the original structure shatter, not a bit. As a result, we have quite exactly the same movie, and the changes operated in this one never feel as improvements but rather inspire the opposite feeling. For instance, the climactic trial scene with the bags of mail delivered on the courtroom is only replaced by a parallel drawn between the existence of Santa Claus and the faith in God which, as smart as it is, is anticlimactic and leaves many things in wanting.
We all know the story is heading toward a heart-warming and magical conclusion but there's just something curiously depressing in the turn of events that lead the gentle Kris Kingle in jail and the way his aura immediately fades while the set-up of his downfall is quite obvious. There was a moment where I expectedKingle to tell that the man he assaulted had just literally accused him of the worst possible crime and had the punch coming, but the scene dangerously flirts with the idiotic plot where the lines that can get you off the hook aren't said, for no other reason that they're waiting for the right moment.
I feel a bit guilty to be so judgmental, again there's that snow beard in Richard Attenborough and that glee in his eyes that makes many scenes with him very touching, I loved his interaction with the deaf girl (a smart remake of the Dutch scene), his chemistry with Mara Wilson hit the right chord, and that little girl is a genuinely good actress conveying the right mix of smartness and innocence (a bit like a real-life Lisa Simpson). But the film reminded me of that scene where Kingle and Bryan, the lawyer enamored with Susan's mother, and played by Dylan McDermott, discuss about the mother (Elizabeth Perkins) and say there's something quite sad about her.
There's something sad in the film as well, sometimes, Elizabeth Perkins overplay that feeling and make any scene she's in a killjoy, even her romance with Dylan, while integral to the original happy ending, are only inserted in the movie as an 'obligation' but it's obvious these moments slow down the script more than anything. There are a few good characters in the film, the judge played by a scene-stealing Robert Prosky, the so underrated J.T. Walsh as the prosecutor but the film loses its way in many unnecessary plot points, and escalate to a trial where we feel cheated because we didn't have our bags of mail, after all, there was no Internet yet in 1994, it could work.
The film is still an enchanting moment that can please any child of any age, but it lacks that little sharpness, the taste of modernity it needed, and luck, too. Macy's didn't want its name associated with the film so they had to come up with a fictional company had to invent a and make the rival an evil businessman, missing the opportunity of the 'marketing policy' subplot that made the first film so ahead of its time. It's like Mayfield and Hughes didn't trust their own material, they had so charming protagonists who could carry the film alone, who needed villains? Especially when the "system" or the world's cynicism was good enough an antagonist.
A good film nonetheless, but so one-dimensional in its treatment it feels dated by the original film's standards.
1 out of 1 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.