Picks and Pans Review: Miracle on 34th Street

updated 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, Mara Wilson

At the risk of sounding like Scrooge, I feel obliged to warn potential viewers that sitting through this remake of the 1947 Christmas classic starring Maureen O'Hara and Edmund Gwenn is akin to having a saccharine drip inserted in your forearm. The problem is not Miracle's basic point that every child has the right to believe in Santa. The problem is the sanctimonious adult characters debating that point.

As updated and adapted from the original by producer John Hughes (who shares the screenwriting credit with the late George Seaton, writer of the 1947 movie), Miracle is about a little girl (Wilson) who wants desperately to buy into Santa despite having already heard the truth from her mother. Mom (Perkins), you see, was badly hurt years ago when her alcoholic husband ditched her, and now, as she says bitterly, "believing myths and fantasies just makes you unhappy." When Perkins, a department store executive, hires an old man (Attenborough) with a suspiciously authentic twinkle in his eye as the store's Christmastime Santa, both she and her daughter find themselves wanting to believe. Might he really be Santa?

Attenborough is a supremely kind Mr. Claus, and his scenes with Wilson and other kids are the best in the movie. The rest of Miracle is given over to the troubled romance between Perkins and her Eagle Scout of a suitor (McDermott), a lawyer who, in the movie's tediously extended courtroom sequence, must argue on behalf of jolly obese men in scarlet outfits. (PG)

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