CHRISTMAS MOVIE REVIEW: “The Polar Express” stars Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Captain Phillips), Nona Gaye (The Matrix Revolutions, Ali), Peter Scolari (Newhart [TV series], That Thing You Do!), Daryl Sabara (Spy Kids, John Carter), Jimmy Bennett (Star Trek , Orphan), Eddie Deezen (WarGames, Grease ), Chris Coppola (Friday the 13th , Beowulf ), Michael Jeter (Open Range, The Green Mile), and Leslie Zemeckis (Welcome to Marwen, From Zero to I Love You). It is directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump), who wrote the screenplay with William Broyles Jr. (Apollo 13, Cast Away).
Based on the children’s book, “The Polar Express” follows a boy who ponders if Santa is truly real, only to then be visited by a magical train in the middle of the night heading to one destination: the North Pole.
Let’s hop aboard a train to 2005 and revisit some Christmas magic for a special holiday review. That’s right, we’re looking at “The Polar Express.”
Now before you say anything, I already know. Most people are turned off by this film because of its wonky CGI. However, I must remind you that at the time of its release, “The Polar Express” was earth-shattering in its visuals. Bob Zemeckis and his team pulled off an incredibly feat in motion capture, to which they would continue perfecting through two more projects (“Beowulf” and Jim Carrey’s “A Christmas Carol”) until throwing in the towel. I recall seeing this in theaters as a kid and being mesmerized. It struck a chord with my family and became an instant classic; many memories came from it, including the song “Hot Chocolate,” which would be blasted as my brother and I would dance around the kitchen. To me, this is nostalgia, so even in the expressionless faces of these animated characters I am reminded of a warmer time.
There’s quite a bit of beauty to this tale. Some of the shots are astounding to behold (my favorite being in the first act where the train stops in the neighborhood, the yellow light piercing through its windows into the cold winter night). And the narrative itself runs on a theme of what it means to believe in something, which I find thought-provoking. At the time I first saw this, I believed in Santa, though as time went on I resonated more and more with the lead (literally named “Hero Boy”), who questioned if Santa was real. Obviously, that belief was put to rest, but watching it now I relate to the message on a more spiritual level. There’s a lot of faith involved with Christianity, and plenty of people fall off the path when they are faced with uncertainty. I know this wasn’t the intent of Zemeckis (at least I figure as much), but I walked away with it nonetheless.
The characters and situations they get into are loads of fun, crafting an adventure that is very entertaining. To be honest, it felt like this movie was meant to be a proof of concept for an amusement ride, as plenty of the sequences surround big set pieces that are very video-game-like. Whether that be the skiing on the top of the train, racing against crumbling ice water, or sliding down a large, winding slide in Santa’s village; Zemeckis made an experience worth seeing in 4D (if it were available).
Of course, one couldn’t review this flick without mentioning Tom Hanks, who pretty much played every lead character. My girlfriend questioned why the director did this, and I chalk it up to a simple style choice. The same was done in 2010’s “A Christmas Carol,” where Jim Carrey not only played Scrooge, but the three ghosts as well. Hanks is lovable and easily brings great joy to this production. I’m not sure why it took several years for me to realize he played so many characters (guess it didn’t register in my kid brain), but c’est la vie. Hanks is great.
“The Polar Express” is a Christmas classic and a personal favorite. Sure, the animation has shown its age and there are plenty of plot holes/questions (how these kids can get away with so much is beyond me), but the overall theme brings great joy to my soul. Not to mention the wonderful score and closing song “Believe” by the one and only Josh Groban. It’s an entertaining, thoughtful picture perfect for the Christmas season. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do. FINAL SCORE: 96%= Juicy Popcorn
This movie has been inducted into The Juicy Hall of Fame.
Here is the trailer: