One of my favorite things to do each Christmas is to watch Miracle on 34th Street. I have watched the original many times over the years but after the 1994 version was released I often alternate between the two. While the first remains my favorite, the newer version is actually quite a delight.
Miracle on 34th Street is the cinematically perfect story of a kind old man who believes himself to be Santa. When he is institutionalized it becomes a matter of faith for his friends and the people of New York. Especially challenged are the Mother and Daughter who believe very strongly in the truth and not in believing “myths” and “fairytales.”
Both films tell the tale lovingly, focusing on the joys of the holidays. Each are shot to look like Christmas cards. Especially charming in both versions are the little girl central to the story. In the original, it’s a young Natalie Wood as the precocious tot. The 90s film features the wonderful Mara Wilson in the role. Both girls are the centre of the films sucking you into the tale and helping you believe in Santa Clause.
What I love about the original is its very modern feel. It’s shot in the constructionist era and everyone is wearing those timeless suits and looks like classic images. I love that the at the centre of the story is a professional, independent woman who resists marriage (even if she eventually acquiesces) and raises her daughter on her own. Balancing this with her opening up to allow Christmas into her life is a wonderfully modern message.
The new film fleshes out the story a bit but it does so in a way that enhances the story and doesn’t take anything away from it. Unlike so many remakes which add whole subplots that only distract us from the meaning of the film, Miracle on 34th Street actually improves on the original by making the characters fuller. The fault of the newer film is only in how it veers from the original ending.
In both films, the climax comes at Kris Kringle’s sanity hearing. The original comes up with a very clever solution which allows a judge to declare the man sane. The new film changes the rational to something completely irrational. This takes away from the power of the rest of the story and is unfortunate in an otherwise charming film.
What I find so inspiring about Miracle on 34th Street is its lesson about faith. Sure there are also the welcome digs at consumerism but generally this about allowing yourself to believe in something. The scenes of New Yorkers gathering to share their belief with each other are truly inspiring, especially in this post 9/11 era.
I can’t walk past Macy’s without thinking of this and smiling.