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Clearly the reviewers who panned this wonderful film can no longer hear the ringing of the silver bell. I am reminded of the know it all kid in the film when I read these reviews. Some said it was too dark. Too dark? It was set at 5 minuets to midnight.....As I recall its dark then. Another called it ghostly; a condition true of a Christmas Carol, the film is in good company there. While I will admit that the computer motion capture in facial expressions is not as strong as it could be it did not detract from the story. Some reviewers did not like the roller-coaster effects. One even pointed out that trains can not do what this one does.....It's a dream...physics don't count. It is a sad commentary that the meaning of Christmas and belief in it's historically documented magic is so lost on those with access to the press. My review...it's good and it is best if you make up your own mind. I could hear the bell ring and I hope you can too.
So it was with much trepidation and even utter fear in my heart that I
went to see this movie. After all, the last time I went to see a
full-length adaptation of a favorite Christmas story, what I got was
Ron Howard's absolutely God-awful "The Grinch". Having grown up with
the book "The Polar Express" (according to my mom, I cited it as my
favorite Christmas present when I was seven), I did not want to see
this story bastardized in any way. Honestly, I was prepared for "Polar
Express" to be a complete wreck. But instead
It soared. Completely. What makes the film such a success is not so much even the story itself, but an execution which somehow manages to inject every frame of the film with a feeling of childlike wonder and exuberance. In addition, there are so many clever touches and details added throughout that a feeling of mystery and excitement just fills the viewer. Among these are the waiters dancing and singing while serving hot chocolate to the kids on the train (a very funny scene, as well), the factory where the presents are prepared, and a ghost-like hobo who is never really explained, but is incredibly crucial to the feel of the film. At one point, three of the children wander lost through the empty streets of Santa's North Pole town. As they wander, various old Christmas recordings are heard playing on phonographs throughout the town. The music provides a pleasant and nostalgic ambiance to the scene. It's touches like this that absolutely make the film.
I'll never understand why films seem to be required to be at least 90 minutes long. I would pay money to see a 40-minute film, as long as it were good. And even if it sucked, I would have at least wasted less time. What I'm getting at is I have no idea why a 32-page picture book needed to be a 99-minute movie. What this means is that the original story is VASTLY expanded upon. However, what is added in actually fits quite well with the essence and spirit of the book. Some of it is just sheer entertainment; the train track is like a roller coaster, characters ski on top of the cars, danger lurks around every step of the journey to the North Pole (but admittedly fun danger). Other aspects further illuminate and expand upon the book's basic theme of the virtue of belief in the implausible. So I have no idea why this was made into a full-length, but in the end, I'm glad it was. It didn't even feel too long (and I think everything is too long).
Much criticism has fallen on the look of the characters in the movie. I can agree to a point. While there is incredible visual detail in the faces, they usually seem void of expression. In general, a lot of the motion seems rather wooden, as well. The scenery, on the other hand, is gorgeous. Overall, the minor problems in animation (which really boil down to a matter of taste anyway) are certainly not enough to diminish what is an overwhelmingly successful movie. Score: 8/10
It was astonishing to read the lead in review. The complaint laid forth
by the critic that the director's view of the North Pole and Santa's
workshop did not reflect his, too bad. Maybe the critic could do better
but it's doubtful. As for the line that the Elven town looked like
something out of a German city, so what? Didn't many of the concepts of
Christmas begin in Germany? My family (two seniors, a twenty year old
father, his 3, almost 4, year old son) loved it. The colors were
brilliant. The number of elves dancing, singing, and rushing to create
an entrance for Santa was outstanding. Santa, himself, proved to be
exactly as he should. Intelligent, sturdy, and kind. His reindeer, just
as impressive. Forgetting the North Pole and remarking on the rest of
the movie, how well done! The artwork, just great. The excitement, our
grandson was out of his chair and standing while holding onto the
chair-back of the row in front of us. There were scenes that could have
seemed somewhat scary for a youngster, he didn't find them so. He
laughed several times out loud, had his eyes glued to the screen when
something serious seemed to be happening, loved the entire movie. He
wants the DVD for Christmas (he will have to wait a year). He also told
us that he wants to see the movie once more before Christmas. Out of
the mouth of a three year old, his favorite movie.
How can a critic want to re-design that? All because he didn't like the city at the North Pole.? I guess he was looking for buildings made from peppermint sticks. To each his own. As for the three adults, we too were amazed. We went for our grandson. We enjoyed it so much, we applauded (as did others in the theater). It will be easy to return for a second showing. And, the DVD, this family will be buying more than one. My summary states that this was the best Christmas story ever made (put on film, actually), we think it was more than that. It surpasses other great animated films. Once purchased in a DVD format, Toy Story will be relegated to the back shelf, even during the middle of summer.
On the one hand there are many delightful moments in THE POLAR EXPRESS,
not the least of which is the entire look of the film--appealing in a
way that great illustrations of children's books always are to young
and old. Tom Hanks and the others enter into the spirit of the whole
thing with gusto--and all the performances are right on target.
On the other hand, much of the film is an excuse to dazzle with roller-coaster-like rides on the express train that roars across various landscapes making wild leaps and turns, all the while thrilling us with a sense of adventure and excitement. For the very young, the ride might be a scary one, especially when the daring young hero rides atop the train during a blustery snowstorm.
Things barely quiet down once the destination is reached at the North Pole. Still there are dangers lurking and the thrills continue with some amazing photographic tricks that can only be done in this new process of computer generated animation.
And to add a cozier touch to the proceedings, certain famous Christmas songs are interjected at intervals to give the North Pole--and the film--a warmer glow.
All in all, quite an imaginative and innovative achievement--impressive enough to assure its place among future Christmas favorites with unlimited appeal for the young in heart. The message of Christmas is lightly hinted at but when Tom Hanks as the train conductor tells the little boy, "The true meaning of Christmas is in your heart," we can be assured that children everywhere will definitely "get it".
Visually, it's a stunner. I didn't see it on the IMAX screen where I imagine it really knocks your socks off, but at a multiplex where picture and sound were impressive enough to convey just how advanced special effects technology has become. There is much artistry involved here, especially when the night scenes of the train's fast-moving travel through a blustery snowstorm capture some rich winter landscapes, including a frozen lake that threatens to demolish train and passengers before danger has passed. The camera-work is continually fascinating as is the artwork involved.
A pity there couldn't have been more of a story in the children's book which is the source--but the artistic visuals are the main source of entertainment here and they are superb. The busy background score by Alan Silvestri is reminiscent of works by John Williams. Although none of the sprightly song tunes are particularly memorable, there is a wistful quality to one of the new Christmas ballads sung by the children.
P.S. - I have just watched it on DVD, a year after writing the above review--and it's definitely a keeper--just as wonderful as you could want, an amazing technological achievement that should delight all ages who can still hear that bell! Tom Hanks, as the conductor, is my favorite character--brilliant job.
A simple story . . . beautifully told . . . magnificently visualized.
The IMAX experience was stunning.
I did not expect to enjoy the story as much as I did. Simple but quite heartwarming.
Although it started a bit slow, it continued to gain momentum (no train analogy intended) through its conclusion. I was not a great lover of the animation of the human characters, but the other animation, whether it be the train, the scenery, the reindeer, or the elves (are elves human?) was quite well done.
Perhaps the best review I can provide is that after I watched the Polar Express, I just felt happier.
The Polar Express delivered me all the way back to childhood and my own faith in Santa Claus at the age of five. I could not only hear the bells, I could see his sleigh in the night sky. Chris Van Allsburg is to be commended for writing an excellent fantasy and Tom Hanks for conducting the wonder tour to beat them all. The special effects are just outstanding, the story line credible and heartwarming. The characters are believable and utterly charming. The children depicted are our own. I would recommend this film to any and all who love Christmas and remember what it is to believe. The experience of watching makes you a participant, breathless to see what comes next. I can hardly wait to view it on IMAX and am taking my entire family, including seven grandchildren to the Tulsa Cinemark this season. Let's hope we see more of this quality venue in months and years to come.
I have to say that I adored 'The Polar Express'. It was just the sort
of film I needed to truly get me into the Christmas mood. The story
revolves around a young boy, who is coming to an age where he is
doubting Santa Claus' existence, until the Polar Express- a magical
train destined for the North Pole- takes him and a group of other young
children on a journey to Santa and to reaffirm their faith in
I had reservations about the use of CGI animation since I felt it really only worked for stories about cute animals but having seen the film, the CGI was the best way to capture the spirit of the film. It really wouldn't have worked as well in live action, the sense of other-worldly magic would have been lost. And as it was, the artwork was beautiful, especially the snowy mountainous scenery that the train passes through.
This film took me back to my childhood and that tingly-feeling every child gets on Christmas Eve in anticipation of Santa's visit. The story was sweet and innocent without being nauseating, and I think every one of us can empathise with the boy who wants to believe in Santa but is growing away from the innocence of early childhood and faith in magic. Much like Raymond Briggs' 'The Snowman', I predict 'The Polar Express' will go down as a Christmas classic. It certainly makes a pleasant change that this year's Christmas film was actually about Christmas and I hope they make the re-release of this film an annual Christmas event.
I found myself saying this over and over as I watched this movie on DVD went it came out just before Thanksgiving of 2005. It continually amazes me how far computer animation has come in the last decade. Each time I think I've seen the most beautiful or amazing artwork, something better - like this - comes along. I couldn't believe how good this looked on my flat-screen TV. I can't imagine how good it must appear on an expensive plasma television.
The visuals are just stunning, scene after scene. The sound ain't bad, either! Those not playing this on a surround system are missing an integral part of this movie and a lot of fun. The roar of train as it comes and goes, for one example, is awesome.
The story is very simple but yet entertains all the way with some very adventurous scenes. There are a couple of roller coaster-type scenes which were especially fun, and actually thrilling. Normally, 100 minutes is a bit long for me to sit through an animated film but this was filled with so many amazing sights and fun action scenes that time was no problem.
The only drawback I found were the kids in the story. Most of them were not anyone you could really warm up to, except for the girl and she was so overtly politically correct it was sickening and an insult to anyone's intelligence. A black girl was NOT in the book but the typically-Liberal filmmakers not only change that character but make her the only one in the film with absolutely nothing wrong with her. She's so sweet she makes Mother Teresa sound like The Grinch. None of the kids in the film, however, were brats or annoying. The only funny kid was the nerd, of course.
PC baloney aside, this was fabulous entertainment. Tom Hanks did a great job voicing over five characters and I've just simply never a better-looking film than this.
This film was a glorious explosion of the hope and Wonder that fills
the memories of the Christmas of Olde. It was a well-detailed,
innovative, thought-provoking piece that reminded me of the
magnificence of belief in childhood ideals.
The characters were well-fleshed-out and very easy to "know". The animation was amazingly detailed and very life-like. The musical numbers and side pieces (especially on the train roof) brought some very effective morality and life lessons to the superb computer animation, giving it that "touch" of humanity.
We all need to hold a piece of the fragile innocence rekindled in this film near to our hearts and spread that unbridled, child-like joy in the simple things in life to remind us of the good we all carry within us.
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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