A few months ago, I remember walking through the library looking at the movies I could review when I passed by a grandmother and her two younger grandchildren who were about four or five. As I was looking around, I remember one of the kids looked in awe at "The Polar Express" and I couldn't help but smile. The film had always been a Christmas staple for me. I remember watching the movie almost every Christmas when I was younger loving every frame of the film. Years passed and I had stopped watching the film by then. This year though, I decided to give the film a re-watch and was happy to find out that I still loved it after all these years. "The Polar Express" might have some dated elements to it, but the things that have held up have held up incredibly well. Here's why I think this is one of my favorite Christmas movies.
A young boy (Daryl Sabara) is starting to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. He has been yearning to hear one of the bells that are on Santa's sleigh and starts to think that it may not exist. However on Christmas Eve, a train known as the Polar Express shows up outside his house where a conductor (Tom Hanks) tells him that it's going to the North Pole and he decides to get on board meeting other kids including a young girl (Nona Gaye), a know-it-all kid (Eddie Deezen) and a lonely boy named Billy (Jimmy Bennet). Along the way, the boy goes on a magical journey involving a mysterious hobo (also Hanks), a gigantic heard of caribou, a frozen lake, and a crazy ride through the North Pole itself.
Ever since the movie came out in 2004, both critics and audience members have been rather split about the movie. Where critics like Roger Ebert loved it, other critics like Peter Travis hated it. I guess I can sort of understand why people are not fans of the movie, but I really couldn't care less. I love this film and I'll try my best to defend it. Let's talk about the story first. Those that don't like the movie usually say that the movie is padded and filled with too many unnecessary scenes. For those saying that most of those scenes aren't needed, there's a reason why it was included. It was based off a picture book which if properly adapted would be only ten minutes long. The scenes they added I think are pretty exciting and have a lot of creativity put into them, but the best part about it was the fact that the message of the film is able to stand tall and is faithful to the book, unlike other picture book adaptations. The characters I think are also likable. Usually, I'm against character not having names, but in this case, it really works mainly because you at least remember what they look like, have memorable things to say and also stand out. However, the thing that most people are pretty split about is the motion capture animation, particularly on the humans as most find it too unrealistic and sometimes creepy. In my opinion, I don't think that was what director Robert Zemeckis was going for. I highly doubt that he was trying to make the characters lifelike because the technology was, and still is, not up to date yet. Though some areas of it are dated at times, the animation was able to translate Chris Van Allsburg's beautiful drawings to the screen perfectly, its backgrounds in particular. I also love the soundtrack of the film. The score by Alan Silvestri is beautiful to listen to and his songs are very catchy and memorable. I also liked the small detail they added of playing old recordings of Christmas carols in the North Pole. As far as flaws go, my only one, in particular, is some of the dated motion capture, but that's really about it.
"The Polar Express" is one of my favorite Christmas movies with a fantastic story, good motion capture, memorable characters, and some fantastic music to help it stand out. It's one of those Christmas movies that people will just have a soft spot for even if people disagree with you. With that said though, if you don't like the movie, I do respect your opinion. However, I will love the movie for years to come.