Director: Les Mayfield
Cast: Mara Wilson, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, Richard Attenborough
Released: November 18, 1994
Last year I reviewed the original Miracle on 34th Street for my holiday movie review. I wanted to review this remake at the same time, but last year, for some reason, this one seemed to be difficult to find. So that is why I am reviewing it this year and I do plan on having another holiday movie in the near future.
In this version, Mara Wilson plays Susan, the young girl who is skeptical about Santa Claus being real. This is because her mother, Dorey (played by Elizabeth Perkins), told her he wasn't. Although she does talk like an adult, I didn't find Wilson's Susan as irritating as Natalie Wood's Susan. The most annoying moment for Susan in this movie is when she tells her mom's boyfriend, Bryan (played by Dylan McDermott), that she's trying to cut back on sugar when he offers her a candy cane. But that's not as bad as original Susan telling Kris Kringle that she refuses to pretend to be an animal because she's a girl and she can't have an imagination! Ugh!
The movie is very similar to the original and starts out with Dorey firing the Santa at the Thanksgiving Day Parade because he is intoxicated and hiring a man who calls himself Kris Kringle (played by Richard Attenborough) who happens to be available and tells him to be "himself." He is so good at the job of portraying Santa that he is hired as their Santa at the department store she works at, Cole's, which is a fictitious department store. Now if you remember, the original was set at Macy's, but apparently Macy's did not want any part in this remake so they didn't get their permission to be used. Ouch. And just like the original, Santa tells parents where they can find toys if they can't find them at Cole's or where they can find toys for cheaper if they are too expensive. The rival store in the original was Gimbel's; the rival store in this one is called Shopper's Express. Shopper's Express, really, writers? Couldn't think of anything more original?
Alison Janney has one scene where she plays a shopper who asks the manager if he knows that his Santa is telling customers to shop at other department stores. She has a very strong Brooklyn accent (I'm guessing...I'm not very good with East Coast accents, but whatever it is, it is very exaggerated. I did find one source saying that her character is from Long Island). I wasn't really aware of her until 1999 when she was in Ten Things I Hate About You and American Beauty, and of course, probably best known for The West Wing when it premiered that year, so it was amusing seeing her in a small role five years before she become really well-known. Speaking of people who were in this movie before they became more known, Jennifer Morrison from the TV series House and Once Upon a Time plays an elf at the Cole's Santa display. She was probably around 14 or 15 at the time and I didn't even recognize her and it wasn't until I was looking through the cast on IMDb that I saw her name and looked up to see who she played.
In my review of the original, I questioned whether or not they had any scenes where there is actual proof that Santa IS actually Santa, but even though he owns a Santa suit, claims his name is Kris Kringle, and gives an explanation of how he can visit every child in one evening, there is no proof that this movie takes place in a universe where Santa Claus really does exist. And tell me, why would he be giving advice to parents on where to find toys for his children when his elves make them, hmmmm?
The bad guys from Shopper's Express team up with the guy who was Cole's original Santa (and apparently this is the only gig he has....I wonder what he does in the off season?) and it is soooo obvious that they are bad guys by the way they talk and look. The ex-Santa harasses Kris and even makes a comment about him liking the kids a little too much. Whoa, family movie remake of a beloved classic Christmas film, did you really just go there? Kris is arrested for assaulting and hurting the man and is sent away in handcuffs. In the absolute worst scene of the movie and probably the worst scene of just about any movie in history, we see a shot of the ex-Santa who opens his eyes, then winks right into the camera to let all the young kids watching know that he is okay and is faking being hurt. OMG it was sooooooooo bad. SO TERRIBLE. I cringed when I saw that. It just catered to all the little kids out there and apparently someone thought they were too stupid to know that it was all just a set up so they had to have the actor wink into the camera. I wouldn't have minded if he just opened his eyes to let them know he was faking being unconscious, but my God that wink was just truly horrible film making. Seriously, if I were reviewing this movie on a podcast, I would tell everyone that this movie loses a star just for that scene. It is that bad. And the movie actually isn't too bad, but that one little scene just ruins it for me. If you're going to break the fourth wall, you need to be more clever about it and this movie wasn't that kind of movie to do that. Just awful.
Kris is released, but he has to pass a sanity test but doesn't since he still firmly states that he is Santa Claus. Bryan plays his lawyer and must prove that Santa Claus does exist and the man he is defending is him for Kris not to be sent away. This movie was good practice (hehe...pun!) for Dylan McDermott since he would play attorney Bobby Donnell in The Practice three years later. Do you think David E. Kelley took Michelle and the kids to see this movie and when he saw Dylan McDermott defending Santa he knew he had to have his next TV show be a courtroom drama and McDermott was going to play one of the lawyers. Totally fanfiction, I know, but it's amusing to think that's the way The Practice came to be.
I thought it was a smart move when Bryan questions the prosecutor's wife because when asked if she has told her children that Santa is real, she says yes and since she is under oath, admits that it was her husband who first told them that he is real and that the Santa their kids visited at Cole's was the real Santa. Let's be honest: the old man can't prove he's Santa. The prosecutor questions a man who has been to the North Pole and he claims he has never seen any sign of Santa Claus living up there and Kris bursts out indignantly, claiming that of course he has never seen anything because his workshops are all invisible. Please. A reindeer is brought into the courtroom. (Where do they find reindeer in New York? Where do they find reindeer in the United States? Aren't they only native to, like, Norway and the North Pole? My parents visited Norway and my mom said she had reindeer at a restaurant they ate at. I was very appalled. And this was when I was 14 and knew Santa wasn't real and I was still appalled!) Anyway, Kris is asked to make the reindeer fly and he laughs and says they only fly Christmas Eve. Oh, how convenient! I'm not buying for one second that this guy is Santa Claus, but good on him for wanting to make Christmas a wondrous, magical time for children. There is a nice little montage where people all over the city display signs of saying they believe which may or may not have gotten me a little teary-eyed. It was scenes like that that made me like the movie.
The judge receives a one-dollar bill from Susan in a Christmas card with the motto "In God We Trust" circled and comes to the conclusion that even though the court can't prove that God is real with any real evidence, they still believe in him and that means people can still believe in Santa even if there is no evidence (or very weak evidence) that he is real. So he is allowed to be a free man and everyone is happy.
As in the original, Susan tells Kris that she wants a family and a house. She gets this when her mother marries Bryan on a whim (I don't understand why they just didn't get engaged, but whatever) and find out the house Dorey plans on using for a catalog has been set up for them to purchase by Kris. Nothing like paying for your own Christmas present, especially when it's a house! Personally, I thought the house was ugly with its ridiculously slanted roof, but it does have a gingerbread house feel to it so I can see why it was chosen for the movie. Inside, was a different story (hey, I made another pun!) as all the rooms were lavishly decorated. We are left with the implication that Dorey is pregnant as Susan has also wished for a baby brother.
And it's been twenty years and we have not yet seen another remake, but I'm sure we will get another.