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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Miracle on 34th Street is a classic holiday tale with little objectionable content. The Macy's brand is a big focus, as is Santa over more religious aspects of the holiday. The little girl at the heart of the story, Susan (Natalie Wood), at first doesn't believe in Santa (because her mom has raised her as a realist) -- which could lead to questions from kids -- but ultimately she's proven wrong and becomes a stout believer in St. Nick.
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What's the story?
In MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, a heartwarming holiday story about the importance of childhood wonder, trust, and standing up for what you believe, Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), an executive at Macy's, is responsible for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. When the Santa Claus she has hired for the parade shows up drunk, she quickly substitutes Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), who is an enormous success and is becomes the store's even more successful in-house Santa. He tells customers to shop elsewhere when Macy's doesn't have what they want. The employees are aghast, but it turns out to be a public relations triumph. Doris raises her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) without any fantasies or illusions, to help her handle "reality." Susan does not believe in Santa Claus. But Kris tells her that he really is Santa Claus, and after observing him for a while, she begins to believe him. Kris has the enthusiastic support of lawyer Fred Gailey (John Payne), who cares deeply for Doris and Susan. But Kris' insistence that he really is Santa Claus leads to a hearing on his mental competency. Downtrodden, Kris doesn't even want to assist in his defense. So it's up to Doris, Susan, and kids everywhere to show adults the truth.
Is it any good?
Ignore the pallid 1973 (television) and 1994 (theatrical) remakes; this original is much, much better. Both Edmund Gwenn and the screenplay won Academy Awards for this film. In a way, Miracle on 34th Street is the opposite of Inherit the Wind. Both are courtroom dramas about how we decide what is true, based on faith or based on provable fact. They have opposite conclusions, however, and the great gift of the movies is that both seem right to us. (One similarity is that in both, the judges are warned that they must make a decision that will have favorable political consequences.)
Doris has been hurt, and thinks she can protect herself and Susan from further hurt by not letting herself believe in anything outside themselves any more. She finds out that both she and Susan have missed a lot, not just in imagination but in the ability to trust, and to allow themselves to get close to other people.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Doris doesn't want Susan to use her imagination in Miracle on 34th Street. Why do Kris and Fred think it's important?
Why is it important that Kris tells people to go to other stores to buy things they didn't have at Macy's?
Why doesn't Mr. Sawyer like Kris? Why did Fred have Mr. Mara's son testify in the trial?
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