A remake of a festive favourite (and a classic that remains as entertaining today as it must have back when originally released), Miracle On 34th Street isn’t all that bad but it’s certainly not a patch on the fine original. In fact, without some inspired casting it would end up being one that I’d have easily forgotten about only a few years after it was released.
The story is exactly the same as it was in the original film – there’s a man called Kris Kringle (this time played by Richard Attenborough) who insists on telling people that he IS Santa Claus. This gets him in all kinds of bother, despite the fact that he’s clearly very good at being the big, merry chap. There’s a cynical mother and daughter combo (played, respectively, by Elizabeth Perkins and Mara Wilson) to be won over, a kindly lawyer (Dylan McDermott) and some scheming nasties trying to put a bit of humbug into Christmas (the great James Remar is part of the bad group and the even greater J. T. Walsh is the prosecuting attorney).
There’s still plenty of fun to be had with the central premise here, and the script by John Hughes tries to retain the spirit of the original while updating everything slightly, but there’s just some magic missing. Perhaps it’s the way in which the script, and direction by Les Mayfield, feels like 100 other movies from the 1990s aimed at family audiences. Perhaps it’s the way in which the balance is ever so slightly disturbed in a way that makes the sweet just a bit too sickly and the moral message just a little overcooked. Or perhaps it’s just that Mara Wilson is a little bit annoying as the little girl who Santa tries to convert. I’m sorry but she is.
The rest of the cast are pretty good. Joss Ackland is underused in a one-note “baddie” role, James Remar and Jane Leeves are good fun to watch when they get to make the most of their brief screentime, Robert Prosky is superb as the judge in charge of a very strange trial, Elizabeth Perkins is suited to the role but still far from a great actress, Dylan McDermott is very likeable, J. T. Walsh is as brilliant as ever and the casting of Richard Attenborough in the role of Kris Kringle is the most inspired choice in the whole movie.
You know what you’re going to get, even if you’ve missed the fantastic 1947 movie, and you get exactly what you expect. It’s safe, it’s fun, it’s sweet and it’s all over within a decent amount of time. But it’s nothing that stays in the memory.
DIRECTOR: LES MAYFIELD
WRITER: JOHN HUGHES (BASED ON THE SCREENPLAY BY GEORGE SEATON BASED ON THE STORY BY VALENTINE DAVIES)
STARS: RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH, ELIZABETH PERKINS, DYLAN MCDERMOTT, MARA WILSON, J. T. WALSH, JAMES REMAR, JANE LEEVES, ROBERT PROSKY, JOSS ACKLAND
RUNTIME: 114 MINS APPROX