The Polar Express isn't your usual animated film. Using motion capture technology like
that which was used for creating Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings films, director Robert Zemeckis
brings to life the children's story on the big screen. The end result is a mixture of failures and triumphs.
The animation in Polar Express opts for a more realistic approach to rendering the characters.
While some moments they look more cartoony than in others, the overall feel of the film gives off
this creepy, almost ghostly aura. The fact that they're supposed to resemble real people yet have hollow
and often empty eyes gives the movie a sort of video game feel. The movie works best at a distance, when the camera
is pulled back from the action and we see less detail in their faces. At the same time, the action involving the train
and the North Pole is breathtaking to say the least. One of the most memorable sequences sees the train
sliding across the ice as the camera swoops in from a distance while the train glides in our direction
and we're whisked right through the train to its engineer's grip on the brake.
The story is a fun fantasy about kids who are starting to question the reality of Santa Claus who are given
a free ride to the North Pole to see him. While it focuses primarily on the secular side of the holiday,
it's a benign and charming little tale. The film, which honestly surprised me to be just rated G, does include
a few moments that may be a little too intense for the younger audiences. A hobo on the train is rather
ominous at times while "Hero Boy's" encounter with a puppet is the film's creepiest moment. The movie
also chugs along a little too slow in some sequences, dragging down the pacing too much at times.
The voice talents in The Polar Express all work nicely, with the exception of -- believe it or not --
Santa Claus. The film paints him a little too serious and almost a little too god-like, complete
with a deep and intimidating voice that is merely an eerily altered version of Tom Hanks' voice. Otherwise,
Hanks does a fabulous job as the train's Conductor and the Boy's Father, and even The Hobo. Hanks'
Bosom Buddies co-star from his breakout TV role, Peter Scolari, makes a surprise appearance
acting out Lonely Boy, a young child who has never had a true family Christmas. It's interesting to
note that all of the children were acted out by adults (with motion sensors), yet voiced by children. But it does surprise me that
Zemeckis & company didn't aim for more varied voice talents as the use of Hanks in four key roles
kind of gives the film a somewhat cheapened feel (i.e. couldn't they afford more voice actors?).
Another strike against the film is the character Know-It-All. A bratty kid with a nasally voice perfect
for grating on the nerves of the most patient, Know-It-All is humorous in his first few moments but
downright intrusive when given more screentime towards the end of the film. All faults aside, however,
The Polar Express has enough charm to keep its engines running and enough eye candy to keep
our attention. It's just, with a little tweaking here and there, a faster pace, and maybe less realistic (and
creepy) looking characters, the film would have been a lot stronger.
Overall, The Polar Express may be your best bet for a Christmas film this year. This brand
of animation looks like it still needs some work, but it looks like the filmmakers may have something
significant on their hands if wielded correctly and developed to its full potential. Regardless, round up
the family and feel good about taking them on this fantasy-based train ride.
If you have any questions or comments about the film before you see it (if you
decide to), feel free to
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/13/04)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Violence: The train gets derailed on the ice
and loses control, but nothing bad happens. The conductor pulls on the train engineer's beard that makes
him yell several times.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most
reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.