Miracle on Rebranding Street

As part of the publicity buildup to the launch of its new streaming service, Disney+, Disney unleashed a massive Twitter storm last week — scores and scores of Twitter posts, all at once — depicting the various movies and TV shows that will be offered by the service.

This image attracted some attention:

It’s the classic 1947 movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” one of my favorites. Disney acquired it when they recently purchased the parent company of 20th Century Fox studios. But it’s the only 20th Century Fox movie in the Twitter storm that has been specifically re-branded as a Disney movie. The image for “The Sound of Music,” for example, doesn’t have a Disney logo on it, even though it’s just as much of a family-friendly classic as “Miracle.”

Disney, by the way, did not start making live-action movies until a few years after “Miracle on 34th Street” came out. Its first, “Treasure Island,” started production in 1949 and was released in 1950.

As I said, “Miracle on 34th Street” is one of my favorites. It’s been remade twice. In 1973, it was remade in color (the original was in black and white, despite the Twitter graphic) as a TV movie starring David Hartman (the original host of “Good Morning America”), Jane Alexander and Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French from “Family Affair”). That TV movie stayed pretty close to the original in terms of story.

In 1994, a theatrical remake starred Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins and Richard Attenborough. That one changed the climactic courtroom scene a little bit, and I’m not sure why. (I’m also not sure I’ve ever seen the 1994 version all the way through, but I have seen the ending.) It also scrubbed all references to Macy’s and replaced them with a generic, fictional department store, which takes some of the fun out of the story.

As anyone who knows my love of classic movies will easily guess, I am devoted to the 1947 original — the one Disney+ is touting as one of its assets. That one starred John Payne, Maureen O’Hara and Edmund Gwenn, with a very young Natalie Wood.

I’m sure that anyone who follows me online is of an age to have seen this movie over and over again, but just in case a younger reader stumbles across this on Medium, “Miracle on 34th Street” is a Christmas movie about a man hired to play Santa Claus at Macy’s who believes himself to be the one true Santa Claus. He’s initially hired as an act of desperation by Doris Walker, a single mother who works in the marketing department at Macy’s. It’s lineup time for the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, and the man hired to play Santa has shown up drunk. Kris, a congenial man with a big white beard, notices the man’s condition and points it out to Doris, and she quickly asks Kris if he can take his place. He is so popular in the parade that Doris and her boss hire him to take the drunken man’s place greeting kids at the flagship Macy’s store. It’s not until later that she learns that Kris Kringle, as he calls himself, lives at an assisted living facility outside of the city and truly believes himself to be Santa.

By this time, however, Kris is a bona fide hit as Macy’s store Santa. In part, that’s because he’s honest with parents, telling them (out of the child’s earshot) about specific items the child asked for that they can buy more cheaply at Macy’s chief rival at the time, Gimbel’s. (Macy’s is still with us, but Gimbel’s, which was a real store in 1947, no longer exists.) The parents go to Gimbel’s to get the one cheaper toy — but then return to Macy’s for all the rest of their holiday shopping, praising the company for its customer service.

Meanwhile, an ambitious, personable young lawyer, Fred Gailey, moves into the apartment building where Doris and her daughter Susan live. Fred agrees to take Kris on as a temporary roommate, just for the holiday season, so that he won’t have to commute. Fred woos Doris, while Kris tries to ingratiate himself with Susan, who’s been raised not to believe in Santa Claus and dismisses Kris as “a nice old man with whiskers.”

Eventually, a conflict between Kris and the stuffy, arrogant psychologist in Macy’s human resources department leads to a hearing which will determine whether or not Kris is to be committed. Fred represents Kris, and struggles to prove in legal terms what everyone else already senses in emotional terms — Kris is highly-functional, no threat to anyone, and may have something to teach us all about Christmas.

It’s just a wonderful movie all around. I love Maureen O’Hara in anything, and this is no exception. Payne is completely likeable as the young attorney, and Gwenn is pitch-perfect as Kris Kringle. Natalie Wood does a fine job as the little girl.

So it’s no surprise, I guess, that Disney would want to adopt this movie as part of the family. I hope that in the actual showings, they don’t replace the Fox logo, however; movie history is movie history.

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike

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