There are some Christmas films that take you right back to your childhood, a time when Christmas Eve meant unbearable excitement and an early bedtime. For me, 1994’s Miracle on 34th Street is one of those films. Every Christmas, despite my advancing years, I watch it with eager anticipation and I’m always left with that indefinable feel-good factor that you get after watching a happy ending.
Miracle on 34th Street is a fantasy story about an elderly man, Kris Kringle (played by the distinguished Richard Attenborough) who when visiting New York ends up taking a position as Santa Claus for the troubled Coles department store (Macy’s in the original 1947 film). Kris Kringle is a spectacular success as the store’s Santa Claus, showing a real affection for the crowds of children who come to visit him and demonstrating his dedication to the role. His kind nature and knowledge of all things Santa-related begin to challenge the cynicism of Cole’s Director of Special Events Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins) and her sassy daughter Susan (Mara Wilson). Unfortunately, every fantasy requires a baddie and the villain comes in the form of Cole’s main rival Shopper’s Express. The discount superstore is determined to destroy its older, more traditional rival and sets out to prove that Kris Kringle is mentally ill and a danger to society because he believes that he is the real Santa Claus.
It sounds pretty grim but luckily for Kris Kringle, he has plenty of friends including talented lawyer Bryan Bedford (Dylan Dermott) who are willing to stand by him and fight to prove that he is the real Santa. A lively court battle ensues with children, reindeer and even a one dollar bill using to argue for or against the existence of a jolly, old man who gives out presents to the world’s children. I can’t tell you the ending but since it’s a Christmas film concerning our favourite man in a red suit, you know that no matter how bleak it seems there has to be a happily ever after.
This is definitely a film which tugs at the heartstrings. One of the most beautiful moments is when a deaf child visits Kris Kringle and he is able to speak with her using sign language. It’s a thoughtful gesture that results in a joyful child and mother and demonstrates Kris Kringle’s devotion to his position. Another moment which always gets me is the ‘Believe’ campaign where Cole’s department store asks New York whether they believe in Santa Claus and the responses range from well known brands advertising their belief in bright lights to small children putting up posters on their apartment windows.
The acting is also fantastic. Mara Wilson is a joy to watch as the adorable but very serious Susan. A reminder of just how accomplished and talented child actors can be. Richard Attenborough is, of course, perfect as Kris Kringle with his wise and yet child-like ways of looking at the world. The chemistry between Dorey and Bryan works beautifully and you find yourself cheering on the couple as they encounter hurdles in their relationship.
Are there any bad points in this film? Well, some of the scenes may be difficult for younger viewers to watch. Particularly the scenes where Kris Kringle is locked away in a mental hospital. Perhaps I’m just a softie but those scenes make me choke up every time. Apart from that, I can’t really fault this film. It’s perfect Christmas viewing and it will definitely get you in the mood for the holiday season.
I’d give this film four of five.
Red Hamilton (believes in Santa Claus)