Revisiting: The Polar Express (2004)

It is Christmastime and as family and friends gather to celebrate the holidays after a rough 2020, there are many great Christmas films for them to enjoy. Many people have their go-to favorite Christmas films they watch every year to help celebrate this time of year.

For my family and I, the two go-to films are The Muppet Christmas Carol and The Polar Express. For this article, I will focus on the 2004 animated classic, The Polar Express.

The movie, which is based on the 1985 children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, follows a young boy who is starting to become skeptical of the existence of Santa Claus, even reading a book claiming the North Pole is devoid of life. As he struggles to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, a locomotive pulls up in front of his house. The conductor introduces the train as “The Polar Express,” a train that heads to the North Pole. The boy reluctantly goes on board. He meets a girl who is spirited about Christmas, a know-it-all kid and another skeptic named Billy. As the crazy adventure to the North Pole unfolds, the boy learns the wonder of life and what it means to believe.

This movie is fantastic and even in 2020, the animation still holds up incredibly well, on top of the heartfelt message of the movie and the tremendous motion-capture work.

The adventure and look of the movie is one reason The Polar Express is still a Christmas masterpiece today. The train is riding through the icy tundra and a constant blizzard. The snow effects look believable and the surrounding arctic scenery is beautiful. The North Pole is stunning, full of color and wonder. It looks like the North Pole many children picture Santa’s home to be. As a kid who believes in Santa, this film is magic while as an adult, one can appreciate the high-quality animation of the movie.

The adventure and action sequences are also incredibly fun and look great. There is a scene where the train’s throttle is broken and several characters are exposed at the front of the locomotive as they approach an incline of 179 degrees. This causes the train to speed uncontrollably as they are going downhill. The depiction of the high speeds look realistic and with the character’s reaction, it does a fantastic job putting the audience in the scene. The other intense scenes in the movie have similar effectiveness in immersion into the adventure.

Adding to the incredible animation is the brilliant motion-capture and voice work done for the film.

Tom Hanks does the motion-capture and voice for several prominent characters, such as the motion capture for the boy (voiced by Daryl Sabara), and adds his voice for the conductor, Santa himself, the boy’s father, the hobo on top of the train, the narrator, etc. Hanks is fantastic in every role he has for the film, including the vibrant and demanding conductor. While Hanks is the headliner, Eddie Deezen as the know-it-all, Nona Gaye as the girl and Peter Scolari as Billy, are tremendous as well. These are some of my favorite child portrayals in film as while they can be annoying at times, their characters are written well.

To cap this off, the heartfelt messages of the movie is what gives this adventure substance and leaves an impact for viewers. This journey is a learning experience for the boy, Billy and the know-it-all. The boy came into this journey skeptical and was only willing to believe what he saw. The conductor tells him that the most believable things in the world are the things we can’t see. This hits home with him as he learns to believe, eventually leading to his wishes being fulfilled. This applies to many different areas of life as people tend to want proof of something instead of believing, which can halt the wonder of life.

Billy sees his present, but instead of breaking the rule of not opening gifts before Christmas, he learns to let it go and trust his wish will be filled. He learns to depend on others, a huge lesson for him as he sat on the train alone on the journey to the North Pole. As for the know-it-all, he learns humility as he cannot go through life while trying to outsmart everyone. All three of these lessons are emphasized when the conductor punches “believe”, “depend” and “learn” on the tickets of the boy, Billy and the know-it-all. The growths of the characters are satisfying, making The Polar Express a well-rounded classic.

Overall, The Polar Express is a terrific animated film that kids and adults today can still enjoy. The movie provides a lot of emotional substance on top of fantastic motion-capture work and animation. While it can be a little too cheesy at times, I still have a blast watching it and I recommend everyone check it out this Christmas season.

Rating: 9/10

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