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The Polar Express /

Rated: G

Starring: Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, Michael Jeter

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Produced by: Gary Goetzman, William Teitler, Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey
Written by:
Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles, Jr.
Distributor: Warner Bros.


Hero Boy (voiced by Daryl Sabara ) in Warner Bros. The Polar Express
The Conductor ( Tom Hanks ) in Warner Bros. The Polar Express
Hero Girl ( Nona Gaye ) in Warner Bros. The Polar Express
Know-It-All ( Eddie Deezen ) in Warner Bros. The Polar Express
Warner Bros. The Polar Express

Note: The following refers to a screening of this film at a sneak preview on November 6th.

     I vividly remember reading Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book, The Polar Express, excessively, in my youngest years. The story always struck me as being that of a real adventure, not just one with a kiddy vision of a narrative. Even though it does not contain nearly as many sentences as it does drawings, it captures the reader in an enriching spell and proves its story to be rather deep, in a somewhat indescribable way. My fond recollection of The Polar Express and how it affected me as a child left me instantly interested at the thought of a film adaptation of the story, especially considering it would the first Tom Hanks/Robert Zemeckis pairing since 2000’s Cast Away.

     Now that it is here, I can confirm that the film-version of The Polar Express has lived up to my expectations for it. Zemeckis directed it using a live-action motion-capture technique. This basically means that he shot an acted-version of it, with the actors wearing motion-detectors and performing in front of a green-screen, and then painted over them using CGI, to create an animated final product. In short, this technology is visually amazing and far more creatively appeasing than traditional computer animation. Such a technique allows for the actors to move and occupy space realistically, while still permitting for impressive and quick action sequences to easily take place, throughout the film. Also, the CGI looks much like the pictures in the book-version of The Polar Express, and this adds a nice feel to the movie, which may be nostalgic for many viewers, who have not taken a peak at it since their childhood.

     The Polar Express tells the tale of a boy who is losing his belief in Santa Claus, as he grows older with the coming of each year’s Christmas. We are introduced to him on one Christmas Eve, in which he is lying awake in his bed, listening for Santa, hoping to hear the sound of sleigh bells, which would confirm for him that the jolly old man does exist. It is then that a gigantic train pulls in front of the boy’s house, and the conductor greets him with delightful firmness. The boy decides to hop on, at his last chance to do so, even though he is apprehensive about such. They will be traveling to the North Pole, where Santa will be handing out the first present of Christmas to a child of his choice. On the train, which bears the same name as the film’s title, the boy associates with three other kids, in particular, and also meets a raggedy old man who lives atop the roof.

     The movie’s beautiful imagery and enchanting storytelling both enthralled me when I was watching it, but the thing that mystified me the most about The Polar Express was how wholesome it is. Not once in its duration is a ridiculous fart joke or scatological gag, which so many other children’s films contain, tossed at the audience. Why is this? Because director/co-writer Zemeckis doesn’t need such filler to connect the dots of the plot; literally every waking moment of his film is carefully thought out so that the audience’s attention is well-invested. Not to mention, The Polar Express also bears the same ambience of a full-on live-action film; it displays swooping cinematography and holds a profound sense of filmmaker-viewer intimacy.

     Only time will tell whether The Polar Express will be universally regarded as the next Christmas classic or not, but I can guarantee that I will certainly be revisiting it in future holiday seasons, if during not this current one. Instead of simply making a seasonal film for the family, Zemeckis captured the spirit of the holidays through the eyes of a child in this project, allowing kids to identify with it and adults to reminisce about their own youth through it. It works tremendously well, functioning as one of the purest and liveliest efforts in cinema in the past decade. There have been better films released over the course of the past year, yes, but when it comes to enjoyableness, The Polar Express closes in on the top of my list.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (11.10.2004)

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