***Some kids with creepy dead eyes take a dreamlike trip to the North Pole on The Polar Express*** A boy from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is at the age where he no longer believes in Christmas, as far as Santa, his elves and flying reindeer go, but a magical train appears in front of his home on Christmas Eve and whisks him away on an adventurous trip to the North Pole with several other kids. “The Polar Express” (2004) was based on the 1985 Christmas book and was the first mainline movie to use motion capture animation for all its characters beginning to end (think Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy). Some people think the animation is weak, but I feel it creates its own world and has its own charm. It holds up as long as you can adapt to those creepy dead eyes of the characters. Some people love this movie while others think it’s weird, like a Twilight Zone Christmas flick. Roger Ebert, for instance, loved it and gave it a perfect grade. I’m sorta in the middle. I see its good points and appreciate them, like the haunting winter ambiance, parts of the trip to the North Pole (e.g. the quasi-rollercoaster ride) and the kids’ investigation of the Christmas factory. But there are some meh parts and dubious sections like the whole last act with the multitude of elves and the towering Santa who looked like he was modeled after 6’5” Christopher Lee with a pillow strapped to his mid-section. The movie’s interesting in some ways but also quaint in a cheesy way, as well as peculiar and lifeless. The film runs 1 hour, 40 minutes. GRADE: C
No matter how many times I watch this, it always brought me to tears! I only wish that I got to see it in 3D at the cinema.
Watching The Polar Express is not an annual event for me, but I believe I have seen it three times and would not nix the idea if someone were to suggest watching it again. I feel a connection to it for an odd reason: my wife and I volunteered one Christmas season to be elves serving cocoa and dancing for an actual Polar Express narrow gauge train ride when we lived in Maine. (Though I can assure you our dancing was not as acrobatic as what you see in this movie.) The animation feels a little odd at first, but I stop noticing it each time I watch it. The story turns the train trip to the North Pole into a real thrill ride for the children on board, especially for our hero boy, voiced by Tom Hanks. In fact, if you are a Hanks fan, settle in, because he does multiple voices here, including one that sounds remarkably like Gilbert Godfrey to me. I try to avoid punching holes in the plots of Christmas movies. Half the point is that they will include unlikely events all leading to the miracle of Christmas ending. You want logic; pull out the old algebra textbook!
A young man is all excited as he heads to bed on Christmas eve. His sleep is disturbed though, when his house starts to shake. He bounds to the window whereupon he sees the arrival of a great train, one he quickly discovers is heading on to the North Pole. Safely aboard he encounters other children and adventure beckons as they learn that one child will get to meet Santa Claus himself before he embarks on his global deliveries! I didn't love this film. I found the rather sharp, linear, facial animations a bit too sterile and there is way too much chatter with not enough going on. I can play chase the ticket once, but after a while that became little better than a clunky conduit for the rather episodic nature of the narrative. I'm sure that technically it is a masterpiece of CGI and human interaction, but somehow it all just left me feeling that the cheesy sentiment overwhelmed it with it's messages of teamwork and the Christmas spirit well and truly over-egged. Alan Silvestri has provided a nice score, and when the animation scenes focus on the actual train then it does liven up a bit, but sorry - for the most part I wasn't sold.
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