Review: The Polar Express (2004)


It’s a winter wonderland out there and everyone needs to hop aboard the train!

Screenplay By: William Broyles Jr. & Robert Zemeckis
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis

Pure and utter magic. Christmas should be a time of fancy and imagination, it should be a time to fill your head full of happy thoughts, your heart full of warmth, and your belly full of food. The Polar Express encapsulates all the special and fuzzy feelings that Christmas can and should bring to an individual. Like any great fairy tale The Polar Express takes you right to the edge of over sentimentality and schmaltz, but doesn’t cross that edge. Instead it becomes real in your mind, you believe in everything that is happening, and you believe in the characters. The Polar Express is a fairy tale of the highest order, full of fantastic moments, wonderful characters and even characters that you want to punch in the junk because they are so annoying (I’m looking at you Mr. Know It All.) It is in the wonderful nature of the story that one can and does become lost in The Polar Express, but it is within the heart of that story and it’s multiple messages of good will, hope, and understanding that the lost always find their way back home.

The Polar Express uses a 3D motion capture technique wherein the actors are digitally recorded acting out the scenes and then their facial expressions and mannerisms are skinned, or mapped, onto their digital counterpart. This technique both allows for a beautiful looking film and for a healthy dose of reality. The film is gorgeous, beautiful shadows and illuminations, brilliant cinematography, one shot that is easily recalled is the look up from within a book where we see the actors through the letters contained on the page. The various action shots involving the train look amazing, breathtaking even. They contain a certain euphoria about them, because they are exhilarating and full of twists, turns and drama while at the same time they look absolutely mesmerizing in their beauty. The reality in The Polar Express comes through in the facial expressions of the various characters. The motion capture technique allows for a reality to their expressions and their reactions to events that are transpiring around them. It’s not just cartoon characters that we are watching, it is real people.

Like most great animated features I would be remiss in not mentioning the tremendous voice work. While the all-around cast was superb, a special nod must go to Tom Hanks. Not only did he position himself as one of the greatest actors early on in his career, but through his work in movies like The Polar Express and Toy Story he has also defined himself as a tremendous voice actor. Mr. Hanks is tremendous as the Conductor, as the Hero Boy, and as Santa Clause. He is human in every scene, he is inquisitive, stern, loving, and dramatic; he is everything. It is because of his innate ability to play every emotion and be all things that Mr. Hanks has risen to the top of his field and The Polar Express is yet another feather in his cap.

If not for one ill-conceived cameo from Aerosmith late in the movie that took me out of the fantasy of the fairy tale, The Polar Express would have been a perfect movie. As is The Polar Express is a great movie, one of the all-time Christmas movies and a joy for both child and adult alike. If you are having a little bit of trouble finding your Christmas spirit or are looking for a new Christmas adventure to take the family on, hop aboard with everyone else and give The Polar Express and the child inside all of you a twirl.



Bill Thompson

One response to “Review: The Polar Express (2004)

  1. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Animated Bonanza! | Bill's Movie Emporium

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