John Hughes, the master of 1980s kid-orientated films always had a good track record around the holidays. Home Alone, Home Alone 2 and Planes, Trains and Automobiles were all released in the lead-up to Christmas and they stand as some of his most successful works. So it made sense for him to have a go at remaking a 1947 classic and make it more relevant for a modern audience.
Department store Cole’s fire their normal Santa Claus and hire someone of the street who bears a striking resemblance to the man in the big red leather jacket. Kris Kringle (Richard Attenborough) as he calls himself is a big hit and brings in more business than any other mall Santa has in years. He is however arrested for assaulting a man in an alleyway. Through a series of conceits, his lawyers must prove firstly that Santa Claus exists and secondly, that Kris is the definitive article.
What John Hughes can do better than anyone is the sort of misty-eyed sentimentality that forms the real appeal of Miracle on 34th Street. A remake of a 1947 film of the same name, Hughes’ Miracle is the epitome of Christmas spirit and over-the-top, saccharine-sweet Christmas cheer. Attenborough is inspired as Kris Kringle and his interplay with cute-as-buttons Susan (Mara Wilson) creates the kind of wonderful Christmas moment that makes Miracle an instant seasonal classic.
The drama is convoluted and the reasoning somewhat insane, but in reality, if a trial about the truth of Santa Claus really did take place, who wouldn’t get whipped up in support of the kindly man ‘ho ho hoing’ his way into a courtroom? It is Miracle on 34th Street‘s greatest strength, that it makes you believe. Not necessarily in Santa Claus, but in the strength of human compassion and caring and not many films can pull this off without becoming too overwhelming.