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The Polar Express (2004)

6.6
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Ratings: 6.6/10 from 92,552 users   Metascore: 61/100
Reviews: 422 user | 182 critic | 36 from Metacritic.com

On Christmas Eve, a doubting boy boards a magical train that's headed to the North Pole and Santa Claus' home.

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Title: The Polar Express (2004)

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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 16 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Brendan King ...
Andy Pellick ...
Josh Eli ...
Mark Mendonca ...
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Mark Goodman ...
Jon Scott ...
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Sean Scott ...
Gordon Hart ...
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Storyline

This is the story of a young hero boy on Christmas Eve who boards on a powerful magical train that's headed to the North Pole and Santa Claus's home. What unfolds is an an adventure which follows a doubting boy, who takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole; during this ride, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery which shows him that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe. Written by Anthony Pereyra {hypersonic91@yahoo.com}

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Journey Beyond Your Imagination See more »


Certificate:

TV-PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

10 November 2004 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience  »

Box Office

Budget:

$165,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$28,995 (Hong Kong) (17 December 2004)

Gross:

$665,426 (USA) (28 December 2012)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

| | |

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The locomotive in the movie is based on the Pere Marquette 1225, a restored steam locomotive located in Owosso, MI. In fact, many of the sound effects of the film's train are recordings of the actual train. The train is often run between Owosso and nearby Chesaning for rides during festivals. See more »

Goofs

The hero boy has to jump between cars because of the gap between them. In actuality there are metal plates between cars to cover the couplers and allow easy access. When the conductor and the hero girl move from car to car they simply walk across. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Hero Boy: On Christmas Eve many years ago I laid quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets, I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound I was afraid I'd never hear: the sound of Santa's sleigh bells.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The production company credits are covered with snow and ice. See more »

Connections

Referenced in A Hero's Journey: The Making of Beowulf (2008) See more »

Soundtracks

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
Written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie
Performed by Frank Sinatra
Courtesy of Columbia Records
By Arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

The eyes don't have it...
23 November 2004 | by (St. Louis, Missouri) – See all my reviews

There is a fleeting moment in THE POLAR EXPRESS where the title vehicle passes a department store with an elaborate Christmas display in the window. Everyone is excited by the sight, especially the story's protagonist, "Hero Boy," until he sees the mechanical gears that reveal the display's Santa Claus to be a machine. That's the problem with THE POLAR EXPRESS, it is a splendid, wildly inventive machine, but it keeps on reminding us that it, quite literally, lacks a human face.

Based on Chris Van Allsburg's slight but textured children's book, the film attempts to capture that book's subtle, albeit dark, visual tone. And for the most part the filmmakers do a stunning job. The artwork and animation, done largely with computers, is rich and detailed and often about as close to lifelike as any animation that I have ever seen. Therefore it is ironic that the remarkably high standards the film sets with most of the animation and artwork only serves to highlight the other aspects of the art that do fail so jarringly. The train, the snow, the sweeping landscapes and even the animals such as wolves and reindeer are all so incredibly meticulous in detail and movement, that it only makes the failure of the artists to replicate the human characters all the more startling and disappointing. The human beings in the story seem trapped in a limbo, being neither quite cartoon and certainly not quite human.

It is strange that the animators do an outstanding job of recreating skin texture and coloring and even the various subtleties of hair, but can't quite recreate the most revealing aspect of being human, the eyes. The mouth movements are disappointing too, but it is the eyes that are, well, just plain creepy. Like the characters in Japanese anime or the sad orphans painted on black velvet, these characters have eyes that have a cold, spookiness to them. They are a mild, if unrelenting, distraction in some scenes, but they quietly spoil many of the major moments where the film strives for an emotional intimacy. It is a serious problem when you literally don't want to look a character in the eye, especially if the character is a child.

The film uses a technology called "performance capture," wherein an actor actually gives a three-dimensional performance which is recorded digitally by a computer, to then be manipulated into animated art. Performance capture is an extension of CGI and, as used in films like THE LORD OF THE RINGS, further blurs the line between what is animation and what is special effects. The process seems to work fairly well as far as body movement goes; the animated characters move with genuine lifelike grace that is far superior to previous attempts, such as the animated action sequences in SPIDER-MAN or THE HULK. Indeed, a dance sequence involving a band of hyperkenetic waiters is a showstopper. But the process just does not work as far as detailing facial features.

Cartoon humans from Elmer Fudd to Fred Flintstone are more simplistic, yet more human than the waxworks faces in THE POLAR EXPRESS. Their cartoonishness gives them a personality that is missing from the POLAR EXPRESS characters. I suppose that as the technology progresses, the ability to create totally believable human faces will be achieved to some credible degree. But the question is why? It's like making vanilla wafers with artificial flavoring; why seek a substitute for something natural and superior.

The director of THE POLAR EXPRESS is Robert Zemeckis, a clever and skilled craftsman whose work includes the brilliant WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, a film that blends real and cartoon images wonderfully. THE POLAR EXPRESS would have been so much better had they followed the lead of ROGER RABBIT and, like SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, merged high-tech trickery with the simple honesty of the human face. Repeatedly throughout THE POLAR EXPRESS, I found myself wishing certain scenes were featuring real actors; I can't think of any other time where I thought a cartoon would be better as live action.

Despite its optimistic Yuletide moral about the power of believing and its child's eye view of the world, the film really isn't a kids movie. THE POLAR EXPRESS has a Twilight Zone quality to it; not unlike the many versions of A CHR1STMAS CAROL or IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The film is dark, and even in its most upbeat moments the story and the storytelling are strangely subdued. Not quite brooding or grim, but far from joyful. While obviously directing the film towards children, the filmmakers don't seem to understand kids. Little things are telling, like failing to give the characters names other than generic titles, like Hero Boy, Lonely Boy, Hero Girl, Know-It-All, etc. Such a lame literary device as reducing a character to a nameless symbolic entity is lost on children; they want to know people's names. Children can't relate to nameless, faceless characters. Neither can adults for that matter. Humans have names, and for that matter so do cartoon characters.

Though it is seriously flawed, THE POLAR EXPRESS is still a remarkable effort, visually stunning and ultimately even emotionally rewarding. But no amount of artistic talent can capture the simple beauty or honesty of a living child's face; it may have been folly for the filmmakers to even try.


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