The ‘Take Your Pick’ Christmas Film

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

 

Any film fan worth their salt knows remakes are somewhat redundant and inferior, for the most part.

Sure, there are many exceptions to this, with ‘The Fly’ and ‘The Thing’ being two that immediately spring to mind, but they have dated originals that are far from perfect.

Miracle on 34th Street is one of those rare cares where both are held in high esteem. There’s no right or wrong choice, it simply comes down to preference. But when push comes to shove, the remake does have a little more going for it.

After impressing as a last-minute-stand-in at the Thanksgiving parade, Kris Kringle (Richard Attenborough) reluctantly accepts the role of Santa Claus at Cole’s, a large New York department store.

Despite changing the stores fortunes for the better, Kringle’s claims to be the real Santa start raising doubts about his sanity.

As Kringle befriends store director, Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins), her non-believing daughter, Susan (Mara Wilson) and their neighbour, Bryan (Dylan McDermott), his fortunes turn for the worst as he stands trial to prove if he’s the real deal or certifiably insane.

The 1994 version does two things that give it the edge over the original – it remains faithful to the original, yet adds changes for the better.

It adds depth to the somewhat rushed original, allowing the story to bed in and naturally flow around characters that have been fleshed out.

Written by the late, great John Hughes, the remake states its points early (Kringle outright says he’s the real Santa in his first line of dialogue), trims the fat (having the store manager embrace the idea of sending shoppers elsewhere instead of worrying about it) and adds meat to the bones (expanding the involvement in influence the rival store has on the plot), making it a much more more satisfying and engaging experience.

It treads a careful line between sentiment and manipulation, especially when it substitutes a Dutch girl who visits Kringle at the store for one who is deaf, but it’s all very charming and does strike an emotional chord.

The biggest and outright best change is how the judge reaches his final verdict in the trial. Although plausible when explained in the original, the letters-to-Santa-argument was somewhat weak and its change to the in-God-we-trust defence holds much more weight.

There are changes that didn’t work; although the relationship between Bryan and Dorey (Fred and Doris in the original) has history and hints at romance, Dorey is too abrasive and cynical.

Mara Wilson is obviously adorable, but some of her lines are just horrible to hear as they make her sound like a 65-year-old woman. Played by a young Natalie Wood in the original, Wood actually seems like a kid, is open to the possibility of Kringle being Santa and is much more believable for it.

But it’s Attenborough who steals the show here; he simply is Santa Claus. Giving one of his best performances, he embraces the character and gives it everything he has to offer. The film hinges on us believing he could be Santa Claus, because if we don’t buy it, the film would simply fail to work on any level.

You can watch the original and you’ll have a similar experience, but it’s great to see a remake go the extra mile by actually putting thought and effort into it.

There’s a sense of wonder, magic and community the original slightly lacks, not to mention the somewhat unfair comparison of colour adding richness to the remake.

Sure, there’s a colourised version of the 1947 film, but colourisation is a crime to any serious moviegoer.

Maybe you prefer the original? Maybe you watch both? Maybe it depends on your mood? Whichever you decide to pick, there’s an argument for both. But I know which one I’ll be watching this Christmas.

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