I know it’s not fashionable to praise or approve of remakes, but sometimes – every once in a while – they’re actually pretty good. Now I’m not saying that this is better than the original 1947 version but I put it to you that it’s every bit as good.
John Hughes (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, “Home Alone”) is back on script duties here and delivers a wonderfully subtle and respectful update on the classic story, changing it just enough to match modern sensibilities without losing any of the enchantment or romance of this most charming tale of doubt, belief and Christmas magic.
The casting is tremendous and although Mara Wilson has a tendency to over-enunciate in her early scenes, and Elizabeth Perkins seems trapped in a perpetual soft focus nightmare, it is Richard Attenborough who really gives this film its sparkle. From the very first moment he appears, he positively twinkles as Kris Kringle, defying even the most hardened cynical soul not to harbour even the tiniest doubt that maybe, just maybe, he could be Santa Claus.
The whole thing is expertly paced and the story unfolds in a captivating manner, culminating of course in a courtroom showdown which could have come straight from “Boston Legal”. Fortunate, then, that Dylan McDermott of “The Practice” (“Boston Legal”’s forebear) is on hand to represent Mr Kringle. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish it was Alan Shore and Denny Crane, though.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the relationship between Elizabeth Perkins’ Susan Walker and McDermott’s Bryan Bedford is severely underwritten, making their courtship seem oddly forced and artificial, but in the end you don’t need to see the whole of their relationship to accept its happy ending. After all, if you can’t believe, if you can’t accept anything on faith, then you’re doomed for a life dominated by doubt.
For all its modern trappings and sensibilities, this is a much more overtly Christian film than its predecessor (watch out for the prominent crucifixes which turn up in the background of scenes) and the final legal flourish which gives the judge a way out of his dilemma is updated from the mundane Federal Government recognition of Mr Kringle to citing the precedent of the United States of America’s belief in God (“In God We Trust”) but the message is never overpowering or preachy and, after all, it is Christmas.
A warm, gentle parable of materialism, family and faith, whether your Christmas tends towards the secular or the spiritual, there should be a place for this film in your festive schedule.