The Polar Express endeavors to be an experience, a wild ride of wonder, rather than just another Christmas cartoon. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, who utilized the still-developing motion-capture technology to lend more realism to the characters’ movements and facial expressions, The Polar Express is beautiful to behold, much like the 2009 A Christmas Carol. Just as Jim Carrey filled multiple roles in that film, Tom Hanks owns several faces, including the Hero Boy (who is voiced by Spy Kids’ Daryl Sabara), his father, the Conductor, the Hobo, and ol’ Saint Nick himself.
The Polar Express is based off of Chris Van Allsburg’s popular children’s picture book, but it exceeds the already evocative images Allsburg produced. At times, the film becomes a literal roller coaster, almost like one of those virtual simulator rides without the cabin agitation, while other moments seem gloriously picturesque, such as the shot of the train winding its way up a spiraling mountain. There are frequent edge-of-your-seat sequences that are genuinely thrilling, from the train’s foray onto ice to a rooftop ski ride with some serious close calls. In addition to all this, the portrayal of the North Pole and Santa’s workshop is my personal favorite of any Christmas film, amazingly detailed and designed with both utility and fun in mind. As the three main kids explore, joyriding in pneumatic tubes and an awesome-looking funnel that always makes me jealous, I can’t help but wonder why this film was never used to create an actual theme park ride (as far as I know).
The characters are not especially deep: a lonely boy with no friends, a brave girl needing more confidence to be a leader, the main boy who has a problem believing what’s right in front of his eyes. Still, they remain relatable and likable enough as they encounter several mysterious grown-ups who never explain everything fully.
Many critics decried the film as being overly creepy, and indeed there are some rather unsettling parts (a walk through a maze of glassy-eyed marionettes, a skipping record in a deserted village). Even so, A Christmas Carol has some potentially disturbing imagery as well, which doesn’t detract from its yuletide message, and the message of The Polar Express is the importance of belief and wonder. Even on a secular level, Christmas is a time for cynicism to be cast aside to allow innocent hope and goodwill to reign, and the film encapsulates this lesson into a perfect gift: the bell. When I was growing up, we had a bell that my mom claimed she couldn’t hear; even if she could, this provided me with an exciting prospect, that belief could open doors imperceptible to others. The Polar Express may be a rather worldly Christmas film, but such a message of faith is rare nowadays.
Best line: (the Conductor) “Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”Artistry: 9 Characters/Actors: 7 Entertainment: 9 Visual Effects: 9 Originality: 7 Watchability: 8 TOTAL: 49 out of 60
Next: #131 – National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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