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The Polar Express (2004)

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On Christmas Eve, a young boy embarks on a magical adventure to the North Pole on the Polar Express, while learning about friendship, bravery, and the spirit of Christmas.

Director:

Robert Zemeckis

Writers:

Chris Van Allsburg (book), Robert Zemeckis (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Reviews
Popularity
155 ( 95)
Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 23 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Tom Hanks ... Hero Boy / Father / Conductor / Hobo / Scrooge / Santa Claus
Leslie Zemeckis ... Sister Sarah / Mother
Eddie Deezen ... Know-It-All
Nona Gaye ... Hero Girl (voice)
Peter Scolari ... Billy - Lonely Boy
Brendan King Brendan King ... Pastry Chef
Andy Pellick Andy Pellick ... Pastry Chef
Josh Eli Josh Eli ... Waiter
Mark Mendonca Mark Mendonca ... Waiter
Rolondas Hendricks Rolondas Hendricks ... Waiter (as Rolandas Hendricks)
Mark Goodman Mark Goodman ... Waiter
Jon Scott Jon Scott ... Waiter
Gregory Gast ... Waiter
Sean Scott Sean Scott ... Waiter
Gordon Hart ... Waiter
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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 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:

All Aboard In IMAX 3D this holiday See more »


Certificate:

G | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The soldier doll that Hero Boy plays with on Christmas morning is part of the recycled toy program the conductor mentions. The same toy appears as a puppet in the background of the scene with the Scrooge puppet. See more »

Goofs

At the start of the return journey, when the train is reversing itself by circling counterclockwise around the Christmas tree, tracks are visible only outside the North Pole Square but not inside. Should there be really no tracks in the square, the train would head down some undesirable directions and crash into stuff / elves. Moreover, much earlier should the elves have cleared the tracks as the train passes through the square. 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.
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Crazy Credits

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

Alternate Versions

The film's IMAX release presented the film cropped to the Univisium 2.00:1 aspect ratio. See more »


Soundtracks

Hot Chocolate
Written and Produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri
Performed by Tom Hanks
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User Reviews

The eyes don't have it...
23 November 2004 | by majikstlSee 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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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

10 November 2004 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience See more »

Filming Locations:

Arctic Ocean See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$165,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$23,323,463, 14 November 2004

Gross USA:

$187,224,490

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$313,500,433
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
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