Friday, 28 December 2012

Film Review | Miracle On 34th Street (1994)

A confession to open this review: at the time of writing, I've never seen the 1947 original version of Miracle On 34th Street. Whilst it therefore may be considered cinematic sacrilege to have seen the John Hughes produced 1994 remake several times, it does mean that I can consider the modern version on its own merits without making constant comparisons to the much-loved black-and-white classic.

Richard Attenborough stars as Kris Kringle, playing Santa Claus at New York department store Cole's which is relying on a successful Christmas season to fend off its recent financial difficulties. Kringle purports to be the real Santa and, whilst initially setting about to convince the non-believing Susan Walker (Mara Wilson) and her mother Dorey (Elizabeth Perkins), ends up in court arguing not only for his sanity but also over whether Santa Claus exists at all.

Miracle On 34th Street may not be directed by Hughes, but as producer and co-writer here his fingerprints are all over it. Hughes knows people and seemingly effortlessly creates incredibly human characters often in larger-than-life situations. Kris Kringle is the epitome of this, gleaming throughout with charm and warmth which is brought to life through a fantastically committed and wondrously understated performance from Attenborough. The veteran actor strikes the perfect balance between the harmlessly loopy and endearingly wise and caring elements of Kris' character; many cite Edmund Gwenn from the 1947 version of this film as the greatest big screen Santa of all time (indeed, Gwenn is the only actor ever to win an Oscar for a portrayal of Santa Claus), but to my mind Attenborough has to be considered as one of the all-time greats as well.

Attenborough is supported ably by Wilson and Perkins as the charming, yet damaged, mother and daughter pairing, as well as Dylan McDermott as Bryan, Dorey's patient and adoring boyfriend and later Kris' lawyer. The casting and performances fit brilliantly into the curiously timeless world which Hughes and director Les Mayfield create. Miracle's New York City is enchantingly caught between the modern day and a nostalgic old-fashioned version of the city (perhaps a throwback to the time in which the original film was set and released), giving the film a feeling of quality and a highly polished finish.

The story is one that can be watched and rewatched without becoming tiresome, putting a unique spin on Christmas traditions and creating arguably one of the most magical of all Christmas films without overtly putting the magic on camera. There are no elves or flying sleighs in Miracle: it's magic is much more subtle, and all the more heartwarming for it.

Occasionally the film becomes too schmaltzy for its own good - a montage depicting a date between Bryan and Dorey, set to a vomit-inducing Kenny G version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", is potentially one of the cheesiest sequences ever committed to film - and things occasionally feel a little too gentle, even for a family film. But the pervading Christmas spirit easily wins through, making Miracle On 34th Street a well made and thoroughly enjoyable modern Christmas classic.


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