‘The Polar Express’ (Film)



Please feel free to comment on my review.

All Aboard For The Polar Express

I loved seeing this Christmas movie when I saw it at the cinema back in December 2004!

‘The Polar Express’ is an amazing Christmas movie to watch every year! I like to watch it a few days before Christmas Eve or on the actual day itself! It’s a magical snowy film that features an old fashioned steam train and takes you on a journey to the North Pole! It’s something truly spectacular!

The film is based on the 1985 book by Chris Van Allsburg, who also penned the books ‘Jumanji’ and ‘Zathura’. The film is also directed by Robert Zemeckis, who is well-known for directing the ‘Back to the Future’ movie trilogy. This is pretty amazing to find Robert Zemeckis doing a CGI animation film.

The film also stars Tom Hanks, who is well-known for playing Woody in the ‘Toy Story’ movies. Tom Hanks has worked with Robert Zemeckis before, since he starred in ‘Forrest Gump’ years before. Here, Tom Hanks gets to play a variety of characters. Ones that don’t all necessarily sound the same!

‘The Polar Express’ is essentially a little story about a young boy who wakes up in the middle of the night to see a steam locomotive train arrive on the street outside his home. The boy soon goes aboard this train to go on a journey beyond his imagination to the North Pole and to see Santa Claus.

What’s unique about this Christmas film is that it has a CGI animation style unlike any other. Unlike the CGI animation seen in Disney/Pixar films and PDI/Dreamworks films, the animation feels pretty believable and realistic for the human characters and the amazing landscapes featured in the movie.

That’s because the usage of CGI by director Robert Zemeckis for this film is via motion capture. If you don’t recall what motion capture is, it’s the same technique used to create Gollum in ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films. So essentially, the characters featured in this movie are done by motion capture.

The cast members such as Tom Hanks as well as the late Michael Jeter and others had to perform mostly in skin-tight suits during the production of ‘The Polar Express’. That must’ve been pretty challenging for them to do, especially when they had to rely on their imagination for certain scenes.

But the result is a stupendous amount of effort put into creating believable human characters through CGI as well as creating incredible landscapes in terms of exterior shots as well as filming inside the steam train. Most of the time, the movie feels like a proper roller coaster ride throughout!

There are a variety of camera angles on various shots in the film to make it feel like you’re journeying on this train ride to the North Pole as well as seeing everything that goes on in the world created. The train gets to go up and down mountains; slide over ice fields and travel across bridges.

There are so many incredible things about this movie in terms of its visual landscapes that I find it a challenge to describe them without spoiling any surprises. ‘The Polar Express’ is definitely a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen, especially with all those roller coaster-feel sequences.

Like I said, Tom Hanks plays a variety of characters. He himself plays the hero boy in the movie that doesn’t have a name, though he doesn’t do the actual voice for him. The voice for the hero boy is done by Daryl Sabara of ‘Spy Kids’ fame as well as Josh Hutcherson providing additional voice work.

Tom Hanks also plays the train conductor, who is like the main character of the film as well as the hero boy. The train conductor seems to be an impatient sort when persuading the hero boy to board the Polar Express train. He also seems to be a knowing character about the hero boy’s insecurities here.

Yeah, the film focuses on the hero boy’s scepticism about believing in Santa Claus. The theme of the movie is about faith and belief, which is interesting in how that’s applied to children believing in Santa Claus as well as Christmas itself. ‘The Polar Express’ is a Christmas movie that makes you think.

Tom Hanks also plays the hero boy’s father at the beginning and at the end of the film as well as a mysterious hobo character that the boy meets who could possibly be a ghost. There’s also Santa Claus that Tom Hanks plays as well as the narrator who turns out to be the hero boy now grown-up recalling this adventure.

The hero boy makes a number of friends whilst on board the Polar Express. Apparently there are other kids like himself who haven’t seen a department store Santa Claus for this particular year and they have their own reasons for coming aboard the Polar Express train regarding their own insecurities.

The friends that the hero boy makes include the hero girl (who is also nameless); the know-it-all kid (who can be a little annoying at times) and the lonely boy who turns out to be called Billy. Actually now I come to think about it, why weren’t the kids aboard the Polar Express given names in the movie?

There are quite a number of key iconic moments featured throughout the film that are worth mentioning. There’s the ‘hot chocolate’ serving scene where the kids aboard the Polar Express get served cups of hot chocolate by the waiters. There is even a song called ‘Hot Chocolate’ to go along with it. 😀

In fact, there are quite a number of songs featured throughout the film for people to enjoy whilst watching the film. These include ‘The Polar Express’ and ‘Where Christmas Comes To Town’. The latter is performed by the hero girl and Billy. The song ‘Believe’ performed by Josh Groban gets sung during at the film’s end credits.

The music for the film is composed by Alan Silvestri, who has worked with Robert Zemeckis before on a number of film projects including the ‘Back to the Future’ film trilogy. The music is majestic and glorious to listen to, especially when the Polar Express arrives and departs from the North Pole.

There are quite a number of jazzy type versions of Christmas songs performed by singers of the 1930s and 1940s. ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town’ performed by Frank Sinatra; ‘White Christmas’ performed by Bing Crosby and ‘Winter Wonderland’ performed by the Andrew Sisters come to mind.

There’s clearly an old-fashioned quality to ‘The Polar Express’ when watching it as a Christmas film. It’s a direction by Robert Zemeckis that I happily approve of and it works well to make the movie feel pretty Christmassy, especially when exploring the worlds of the North Pole when we soon get there.

Speaking of which, the North Pole looks impressive. This is especially with the streets; the interior workshops and the elves that work there. The elves are pretty unusual in that they wear red instead of green. But it’s fun to watch the hero boy; the hero girl and Billy exploring these workshop areas.

There are also Smokey and Steamer, the two train drivers that provide the film’s comic relief. It was so funny to see these two guys when things go wrong whilst driving the train. They come across a herd of caribou blocking the train’s path and they have trouble with the throttle, causing the train to speed up faster.

My parents and I purchased the 1-disc DVD edition of ‘The Polar Express’ when it was released in 2005. This included just the theatrical trailer for the movie. There is a 2-disc DVD for ‘The Polar Express’ as well as a Blu-ray edition. They have plenty of behind-the-scenes extras focused on the making of ‘The Polar Express’.

The special features include ‘You Look Familiar’; the ‘A Genuine Ticket Ride’ five-part making of documentary; ‘True Inspirations: An Author’s Adventure’; ‘Behind the Scenes of ‘Believe’; the ‘Flurry of Effects’  five-part documentary and the deleted song called ‘Smokey and Steamer’. There’s also ‘Josh Groban at the Greek’; ‘Meet the Snow Angels’ which is a brief series of interviews with the cast and crew; the theatrical trailer for the movie and a ‘THQ Game Demo’ for the movie.

‘The Polar Express’ is a lovely Christmas film to watch! I would like to see this film on the big screen again as it certainly is a treasure to have. Even if you don’t believe in Santa Claus, this is a Christmas film that should definitely warm your heart and make you feel all very Christmassy inside yourself!

I love the steam train aspects of the film. You definitely feel like you get to go on a steam train and get to journey to the North Pole at Christmas time, which is what I felt when I went to the Brecon Beacons to see Santa as a kid. 😀 The film is well-directed by Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks is a big star!

‘The Polar Express’ rating – 10/10

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