On a normal level of cinema, this film is only mediocre. Where it fails is that it is a terrible remake of a well-known, well-loved film. And even worse for this film, it's a lousy remake of a well-known, well-loved film that just happens to be my favorite Christmas film of all time.
It has a few positives. All right, it has one positive, and that is Richard Attenborough. He brings a genuine delight to the role of Saint Nick, and it is not hard to believe this guy could be the genuine article. Unfortunately, his performance highlights the lousy performances of many of the principles.
Dorey Walker is played by Elizabeth Perkins with none of the sympathy given to her by Maureen O'Hara. It's impossible to even dream of her getting married to anyone. Some of this is to be blamed on the script, though, which spends so much time establishing Dorey's cold heart that it forgets she's supposed to be getting our sympathy, not our scorn. Which brings us to the flat performance of Dylan McDermott. He could be replaced with a cardboard cut-out without affecting the flow of the movie. Then we have Mara Wilson. She tends to be more snobby and over-confident than confused, but Wilson is up against Natalie Wood. To be fair, we never get to see Wilson chattering like a monkey for comparison purposes. That delightful scene was excised from the modern version.
A rather ridiculous subplot has been added to this remake with a rival store, Shopper's Express, trying to put Cole's out of business (Macy's refused to have their name put in the film). It is headed by the popular 90's villain of choice, the Greedy Evil Mean CEO, Victor Landbergh. He doesn't play much of a role, yet he is supposed to be the encompassing bad guy, evoking images of Lex Luthor plotting the demise of Superman. He even has his own flunkies who attempt to sabotage the department store, skittering around almost like Boris and Natasha. This subplot tends to weigh down on the film, feeling forced in rather than meshing with the film. The pompous psychiatrist of the original works because it was simply one guy with a chip on his shoulder instead of a wicked retail overlord. The former is funny, while the latter is overkill.
Actually, that addresses another problem with this film - it takes its subject matter far too seriously. The original film was an enjoyable farce. This one is a somber story, filled with the right glurgy turns to renew our souls or something. Basically, it's way too serious considering the subject matter (an old guy who thinks he's really Santa Claus.) The original had some laugh out loud moments of sharp humor - this one instead attempts to force you to shed tears of sadness and joy. It usually just shed tears of boredom from me.
The court decision at the end of the film is not only anti-climactic, but doesn't really address the actual issue - Kris is on trial for lunacy. The only decision to save him is to prove he's REALLY Santa Claus, thus making him sane. This movie can't seem to make up its mind why he's on trial and its ultimate answer for Kris obvious acquittal would fall upon under the lightest of legal scrutiny, where the original film made a compelling legal argument. I can't answer that, but I will say that this film's answer is far off the mark. Please, I beg of you-if you have NOT seen the 1947 Black and White original, then please correct that. This is not an adequate substitute to a film that didn't need one in the first place. They even colorized the old one, so if you hate black and white, then you still have a color option without wasting your time on this.