Can a modern kid still believe in Santa Claus in this cynical world? Miracle on 34th Street is, of course, a remake of the 1947 holiday classic starring Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and an enchanting young Natalie Wood as the little girl who refused to believe. (There was also a 1973 made-for-TV remake proposing Sebastian Cabot as Kringle.) You can tell it’s the ’90s now because the little girl, Susan (Mara Wilson, who lisped her way overfetchingly through Mrs. Doubtfire and continues the tiresome act here), lives with her mother, Dorey (Elizabeth Perkins), a depressed, single working woman seemingly in need of the miracle of Prozac. Dorey’s boyfriend is Bryan (Dylan McDermott), a do-gooding lawyer who’s patient in the face of his beloved’s long-term mopeyness (suggested Christmas gift book: Men Who Love Too Much). And Bryan’s pro bono client is Kringle himself, who masquerades as a department-store Santa and who is played by Richard Attenborough with the kind of Eh-wot? jolly Father Christmas British accent that imparts instant authority.
The director of record is Les Mayfield (Encino Man), but really, the ho-ho- hos in this Miracle belong to writer-producer John Hughes, who, I swear, truly does believe in Santa — or maybe he is Santa, so enthralled is he by the warm glow of childhood. And I mean that in the best possible way: If anyone can make an audience buy into a pretty, old-fashioned, cockle-warming premise, it’s Hughes, the millionaire softie who invented Home Alone. This retelling is loving and gentle and lit like a 1940s musical.