Much like the comparison I did between the versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated vs. live action) I am going to try to break down which version of Miracle on 34th Street is the best and which one you should watch this year.
What a terrible article title.
Miracle on 34th Street tells the story of a mall Santa, Kris Kringle, who claims to be the real deal. In the original movie a psychological evaluation of Kris is ordered and the psychologist ends up working against Kris in order to have him institutionalized. This is the same for the TV movie that was aired in 1973 but in the 1994 theatrical remake Kris is arrested after rival department store employees set him up. In all of the films, Kris Kringle then is forced to defend himself in court to prove that he is actually Santa and is not insane.
Miracle on 34th Street was first written and released in June of 1947. That’s right June! I’m pretty sure it is the only Christmas movie that we have covered throughout this blog (not including incidental Christmas movies and The Nightmare Before Christmas) that wasn’t released during the traditional Christmas season (November-December). The reasoning behind this was that more people go to the movies in the warmer weather and the original poster minimized the Christmas setting to attract viewers based on its stars.
The original 1947 poster vs the updated 1947 poster.
After the original’s success there were 2 TV specials in the 1950’s. One was as a part of The 20th Century Fox Hour and one was aired live and in colour for the first time during NBC Friday Night Special Presentation. These versions were never widely released and followed the first film closely.
In 1973, another TV movie was made by 20th Century Fox and again followed the plot of the original movie fairly closely with only a few deviations.
Finally, a theatrical remake of film was released in 1994 which greatly changed the plot from the original version. In my eyes this version is the main competitor to the original as it was the only other film to be widely released to the public. For the purposes of this comparison I am going to focus on this film vs the original.
Did you know that John Hughes wrote the screenplay for the remake?
According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), the original film is rated 7.9 out of 10 (31, 024 total votes) compared to the 1994 remake which only received 6.4 out of 10 (22, 457 total votes). The amount of votes for each movie actually surprises me considering that it was the opposite for How the Grinch Stole Christmas; with the older movie having fewer votes. To me this only strengthens the argument that the original is the higher quality film since more people have gone to IMDB (only founded in 1990) to rate the old movie. Though it is worth noting that film critic Roger Ebert gave the remake 3 out of 4 stars and stated that it was a “sweet, gentle, good-hearted film that stays true to the spirit of the original and doesn’t try to make everything slick and exploitative.”
Additionally, the original movie won 3 Academy Awards and 2 Golden Globes. It was also nominated for Best Picture but lost to Gentleman’s Agreement. The 1994 remake received no love from any major awards though Richard Attenborough (who portrays Kris Kringle) got nominated for a Saturn Award. The original was selected in 2005 for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The 1994 version being a remake has not been selected which isn’t really a surprise.
The Saturn Awards: one of the many awards you probably haven’t heard of.
In the original film the rival stores were Macy’s and Gimbels with both stores providing their permission for their names to be used. Gimbels had gone out of business by the time the remake was filmed but Macy’s actually denied the production the permission to use their name for the remake. To me this shows the stores lack of faith in the production. To be fair though it is believed that Macy’s removed support without having seen the film. Permission was granted for the original after the movie had already been completed.
I also forgot to mention that the original is in black and white for those who are fonder of movies in colour. Much like other Christmas classics like It’s a Wonderful Life it has been colourized in more recent releases of the film should you prefer to watch it in colour. The 1994 remake was released in colour which is not surprising based on the fact that most movies have been released in colour since the 1950’s.
The umbrella whacking in full colour is just marvelous.
Lastly, to repeat myself a little bit from my blog on How the Grinch Stole Christmas there is usually a bias against remade films. The original was already a classic by the time the remake was made and a lot of people had preconceived ideas about the movie before viewing the remake. The remake also changed the story a fair amount which likely bothered anyone familiar with the original.
Overall it is quite clear that the original movie is the better movie in this case. My family owned the remake and therefore I watched the remake first but when I saw the original only last year (a difference of over 20 years from my first viewing of the remake) I liked it better. I’m not even a huge fan of black and white movies because I find that the colour gives the film more life and energy but the original story was just told that much better. So if you only have time for one viewing of Miracle on 34th Street I recommend the original 1947 version!
Or you can try to watch the musical!
Don’t agree with my opinion? Let us know in the comments!