Kriss Kringle (Richard Attenborough) and Susan Elizabeth Walker (Mara Wilson)
It's modern-day New York City and Cole's is the sponsor of the Thanksgiving Day parade (Macy's declined to participate in this remake, which explains the "Cole's" name change).
Kriss Kringle (Richard Attenborough), who claims to be the real Santa Claus, calls out a drunken Santa – Tony Falacchi (Jack McGee) – on the sleigh float, much to the surprise of Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins), director of special projects for Cole's Department Store.
When the drunken Santa falls off the sleigh, Dorey recruits Kriss, who works out just fine. Dorey's wise little 6-year-old daughter, Susan Elizabeth (Mara Wilson) is a little sad this Christmas, worried that her mom's job may be in jeopardy (two banks just rescued Cole's from a hostile takeover); and, she knows that Santa's not real.
Dorsey's neighbor, lawyer Bryan Bedford (Dylan McDermott), is in love with her, but despite his and Susan's gentle hints (okay, Susan's are anything but gentle), Dorey keeps holding out.
Kriss dons his own Santa suit and takes his place in the Cory's Santa chair. But he truly wants to help, so he sends some kids' moms to Bargain Village, who offers the same thing for much less money. An appreciative mother (Allison Janney), tells Dorey's boss, Donald Shellhammer (Simon Jones), that Kris made her a customer for life because he puts customers before sales.
Donald latches on to the concept and sells it to C.F. Cole (William Windom), who loves the idea. That angers Victor Landberg (Joss Ackland, uncredited), who owns a competitor store and wants to buy out Cole's. He scolds his people – Jack Duff (James Remar) and Alberta Leonard (Jane Leeves) – for not thinking of it first.
Jack and Alberta try to derail Cole's by hiring Kriss away. No dice. So Jack changes his strategy and talks to an embittered Tony Falacchi, the drunken Santa. Falacchi's a pretty nasty guy and sets out to undermine Kriss' special bond with children.
Unbeliever Susan watches Kriss at work and begins to come around. That bothers unbeliever Dorey. So Kriss makes a test case out of the two and tries to make them believers. Susan asks him for a house, a brother and a dad. That's what it will take for him to prove that Santa's real.
Bryan proposes to Dorey and gets turned down flat. Then, something bad happens and the next thing you know, Kriss is on trial for assault and battery, a segment featuring two great actors: J. T. Walsh as hard-hearted prosecutor Ed Collins, and Robert Prosky as Judge Henry Harper, whose grandson talked to Kriss in the movie's prologue.
If you've seen the earlier version of Miracle on 34th Street, then you generally know what happens next. If not, then you're just going to have to see the movie for yourself, and have your faith in the Christmas Miracle renewed. You'll need some tissue.
Mara Wilson is as perfect in the role of Susan Elizabeth Walker as Natalie Wood was in the 1947 version. And Richard Attenborough is such a believable Santa Claus. The 1994 remake is almost as good as the old version.
There are some mighty fine Christmas songs performed in the sound track by some mighty famous singers: "Jingle Bells" by Natalie Cole, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" by Dionne Warwick, "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" by Elvis Presley, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Kenny G, "Joy to the World" by Aretha Franklin and the FAME Freedom Choir, "Song for a Winter's Night" by Sarah McLachlan, and "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" by Ray Charles.
This is the second theatrical version of Miracle on 34th Street (the first, in 1947, starred Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn) and the fourth overall if television movies are included.
Grade: A-Christmas, drama, fantasy, Remake, romance
Quotations I like from the film:
"Sure. That's the end of the parade anyway. There's nothing else to see except guys cleaning up horse poop. And THAT doesn't thrill me at all." – Susan Walker (Mara Wilson)
"Truth is one of the most important things in the world ... to know the truth and to always be truthful with others, and more importantly, with yourself. And believing in myths and fantasies just makes you ... unhappy." – Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins)
"If you can't believe, if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed for life." – Kriss Kringle (Richard Attenborough)