The Polar Express has received more attention in the media for its state of the art animation than for the actual movie. And this is
accurately reflected in the first half of the film. Instead of building characters or properly setting up the story, it just seems a bit too much
like a tech demo made to showcase the pretty computer graphics.
There is a sequence early on where one of the passengers looses her train ticket. A long and beautiful continuous shot follows to show
the journey of the lost ticket. But in the end it feels extremely unnecessary. It’s a shame it has such a slow start too, because this movie
gets much better as it goes along.
It isn’t until halfway through the story that director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) really starts to hit his stride. And
believe me, he hits it hard.
The story is about an unnamed boy who has lost his faith in Christmas. On Christmas Eve a train arrives in his front yard. The conductor
(one of Tom Hanks’ six performances in the film) offers to take him to the North Pole to see Santa and the elves. And so the dreamlike
The trip to the North Pole contains some well directed action sequences, but really not much else. When the characters reach the North
Pole that all changes.
Zemeckis begins to fully flesh out the story and characters and The Polar Express becomes genuinely touching and inspirational. It all
builds to an ending that is really fantastic.
The film also owes a lot to composer Alan Silvestri. His magnificent score is both exciting and chilling and is one of the best of the year.
As for the much talked about animation, it is certainly good, but not perfect. Even though the film looks nearly photo realistic at times, it is
only when the characters are standing still. The movements and expressions of the characters are less convincing. I would say that The
Incredibles was far better in those areas, even though that film clearly wasn’t going for realistic.
I think one of the most surprising things about The Polar Express is how dark it is. The overall project has a very strange feel to it. And
although it would have been nice to have at least some humor, the serious nature makes the movie unique among children’s films,
especially a Christmas children’s film.
Even though The Polar Express squanders an opportunity to be a Christmas classic, it does make up for the slow start and becomes a very
enjoyable and rewarding experience. And for that, I would definitely recommend it.
* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis & William Broyles Jr.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Leslie Zemeckis, Eddie Deezan,
Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari
Music by: Alan SIlvestri
Released: November 10, 2004; 100 Minutes