For a remake, 1994’s Miracle on 34th Street is surprisingly old fashioned, which is good because all it needed was some kid teaching Santa Claus to breakdance and the whole thing would’ve been down the tubes. Its greatest suspense is that it teeters on the brink of failure throughout but still manages to stay in the viewers good graces.
In New York City, Cole’s Department Store is about to stage their annual Thanksgiving Day Parade and Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins) hires their Santa Claus (Richard Attenborough) at the last minute. Somehow after seeing Claus wave to a crowd all day, henchman Jack Duff (James Remar) remarks to his boss (Joss Ackland, uncredited for some reason) at Shopper’s Express that he thinks this guy is “the real thing.” That’s about as much proof as the viewer gets, too. There’s never a defining display of magical powers that says yep, sure, that’s Santa. Good thing, too, as the entire movie nearly bleeds belief and starry eyed wonder, so there’s really no question what the answer is. This isn’t a movie about questioning anything. It is about affirming that everything is good and everyone is happy.
Kris Kringle, as the new Santa calls himself, does a heckuva job and soon Cole’s Department Store is brimming with customers. This prompts some corporate trickery from Shopper’s Express and before you know it, Kris is on trial as the court attempts to prove whether or not Santa exists. Of course, there isn’t any question where this is going. Kris isn’t going to be locked up in an institution for the rest of his life. Still, this passage in the movie has the most heft and could’ve been played for a little more had there been any interest in examining gray areas. But then, if it was interested in that, it probably would also be a big downer. On top of that, he’s got to make believers out of Dorey and her 6-year-old daughter Susan (Mara Wilson) and the only way to do that, it seems, is to grant Susan’s wish of – deep breath now – finding a husband for her mom, a baby brother for her and a house in the country – phew. That’s all. By Christmas, thanks.
There’s absolutely nothing beneath the surface of Miracle and that’s a part of what makes it an enjoyable watch. It does try to have something to say about humanity vs. the almighty dollar, about trying to live a happy life instead of a successful one, but it’s all gloss. There are no real feelings there, just enough lip service to send you out into the snow feeling warm. This is a movie for people who hate sad things mucking up their stories. Bad guys turn out to be not so bad guys, everyone’s wishes come true, and elaborate plans come together without a hitch. For instance, one full page ad in the New York Times instantly brings everyone out into the streets the next day at noon to cheer for Santa. No one in the streets organizing, no updates outside of – seriously – a man yelling from a window, which somehow sends the entire city into more mass cheering.
These are not things to be disdained, though, really. It all lends itself to the old fashioned feel of the movie. Despite some hairdos and costumes and Mara Wilson, the movie doesn’t really feel like it was made 15 years ago. It keeps pop culture references to a minimum and even those that are made – like the cold mega-corporate store that is Shopper’s Express – still make plenty of sense today.
The last twenty minutes or so may try the viewers patience, with what feels like 3 or 4 distinct endings that are superfluous and necessary at the same time. There was no way to wrap this up neatly in just one scene, but only because Susan’s one Christmas wish is so massive. In anyone else’s life, fulfilling her wish would take the average person anywhere from a year to a decade without Santa’s help. With his help? About 24 hours. It’s completely ridiculous, but the makers never overplay it – they must’ve known the job that was cut out for them – as they breeze through to get to a nice little punchline at the end. Nothing classic, but nicely done.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the look of the film and the Blu-ray transfer are both topnotch. The audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD and 5.0 Dolby Digital in English and Dolby Surround in French with subtitles in Spanish. The audio is also crisp and clear.
There are no special features on this disc.
This remake of Miracle on 34th Street isn’t a great film, but its old fashioned construction still gives it a classic Christmas movie feel.
Twentieth Century Fox presents Miracle on 34th Street. Directed by: Les Mayfield. Starring: Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, J.T. Walsh, James Remar, Mara Wilson. Written by: George Easton and John Hughes. Running time: 113min. Rating: PG. Released on DVD: October 6, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Blu-ray Reviews, Christmas, John Hughes