The Polar Express

The great thing about being a baby boomer was that when they were kids, they were such a big market, that the whole world revolved around them. Or that’s how it must have seemed. One example of this is the commercialization of Christmas in the sixties, and more specifically, the rise of the Christmas special. Now there are aging baby boomer filmmakers seeking to relive the magic their childhoods by recreating the spirit of these specials.

They don’t really succeed. All the elements are here: the gloomy kids who don’t believe in Santa, the wise mentor who guides them toward belief, the stupid sappy songs, and even a train car full of cast off toys going to the North Pole to be recycled.

These elements are all wrapped in a slick digital package. The look of this film is incredible, the colors gorgeous and the imagination behind the visuals is truly breathtaking. The motion capture technology they used for animation is not perfect, the characters’ faces are curiously wax-like. In the words of other reviewers, it is a “creepy” effect.

But the main problem is the story. After seeing it so many times, is anybody still moved by stories of children reaffirming their belief in Santa Claus? I suspect that this theme is more powerful for parents watching their kids move out of that magical age. But as for the kids themselves, I’m not sure they care. I don’t recall being that upset when I learned the truth.

Another problem is that the incidents in the film are repetative. They lose control of all or part of the train at least twice. A ticket is snatched away by the wind, and we follow it as it wafts and tumbles and eventually makes its way back to the owner. We also see this image twice. In fact, the director Robert Zemeckis used it in Forrest Gump, if you’ll recall.

Kids will like this for the pretty pictures, but as they grow up, they’ll be disappointed in the story, and the characters. And since animation is in a phase where every movie improves upon the last, The Polar Express really has nothing.

The old Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer special has more psychological depth. And better songs, too.


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November 2004
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