Hark! An instant classic is born — get on board ‘The Polar Express’
Have you ever wondered how Santa gets all those presents for good boys and girls all over the world in his huge red sack? That question and many others are beautifully answered in the utterly magical “The Polar Express.”
Those who love the familiar Chris Van Allsburg book, from which the movie is taken, will surely appreciate the embellishments director Robert Zemeckis (who wrote the screenplay with William Broyles Jr.) has contributed to the short story. In turn, Zemeckis and Broyles have made a charming, adventure-packed seasonal film destined to become a classic.
Right from the outset it is clear the makers of the film were devoted to capturing the visual beauty of the breathtaking artwork in the book. Using “motion capture” animation technology (a complicated process utilizing skintight bodysuits and infrared sensors placed on the actors’ body), most famously used for the Gollum sequences in the “Lord of the Rings” films, the film has a striking vibrancy that only enhances its whimsical spirit.
Everything but the humans conveys oil painting realism. While some feel the characters look a bit eerie, most viewers will understand these are animated characters that exude wonderfully meticulous lifelike movement and expression. Such thrilling sequences, as when the train takes some rollercoaster drops and where it must pause during a massive Caribou crossing, provide a stunning realism that surpasses any previous animation.
The film begins and ends as the book does. A boy, finding it hard to sleep and doubting the existence of Santa Claus, embarks on a train bound for the North Pole and undertakes a majestic odyssey — complete with a meeting with the Big Guy himself. “The Polar Express” fills the journey with action, warmth, memorable characters, (many of whom are portrayed in various forms by Tom Hanks), and one other bonus: wondrously delightful music with an eternal quality all its own.
A song the three main characters sing, “When Christmas Comes to Town,” will melt even the chilliest of humbug hearts. Note to mega pop stars: please don’t take this gloriously heartwarming children’s song and turn it into an overproduced and over-sung piece of narcissistic pap. (On the subject of mega-pop stars, the film’s lone misstep is the mystifying appearance of a rock icon that seems deliriously out of place.)
If I had one Christmas wish it would be that “The Polar Express,” with its timeless quality that recalls “The Wizard of Oz” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” would never be released on DVD or video. I wish the producers would release this breathtaking film every Christmas season and allow us the blessing of recapturing its wonderful spirit on the big screen with loved ones year after year. Yes, it’s that good.