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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.


Robert Zemeckis


Chris Van Allsburg (book), Robert Zemeckis (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
4,305 ( 153)
Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 23 nominations. See more awards »



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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


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


This Holiday Season... Believe. See more »


G | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






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 »


Box Office


$165,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$23,323,463, 14 November 2004, Wide Release

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Some viewers speculate that the conductor time-traveled. His voice is heard as an older version of the main protagonist, and he could have gone back in time to help his past self. See more »


The controls, brakes, and other machinery on the train are set up in ways that don't make sense, but that's because it's pure fantasy. See more »


[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

At the very end, it reads "In Dedication to Michael Jeter" with a picture. See more »

Alternate Versions

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


Referenced in Saturday Night Live: Kristen Wiig/Vampire Weekend (2013) See more »


Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)
Written by Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman
Performed by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters
Courtesy of Geffen Records
Under License from Universal Music Enterprises
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »

User Reviews

"The Polar Express" Is A Surprisingly Good Trip
13 December 2011 | by D_BurkeSee all my reviews

I try not to have expectations when I go to see films. Often, my problem is usually that I'm excited about a film's opening, and my expectations are usually high. In the case of "The Polar Express", my expectations were actually pretty low.

Growing up, I would read and reread "The Polar Express", a book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, every Christmas. It still ranks as one of my favorite children's books. The story was great, the illustrations were amazing, and the book never lost its charm to me as I got older.

Naturally, when I heard they were making a movie out of it, and an animated one at that, I could not help but dismiss it as a ploy for Hollywood to take a sweet, timeless children's fable, and exploit it for a cheap buck. Now that I've actually seen the movie, I can say that it was far better than I thought it would be.

Director Robert Zemekis, who also co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay, managed not only to make the film look amazing, but still kept the heart and the main moral of the original book within the movie. There are a lot of parts here that were not in the book, like the train slipping on an icy lake, and the caboose disattaching from the train with some of the kids on it. However, the really important parts of the book were maintained here. The main boy in the story still wants a bell, Santa gives it to him, and . . . you can figure out the rest.

I didn't expect to like many of the additional characters they added to the movie, but I thought they were all characterized very well. I liked how the conductor (Tom Hanks) actually had a personality, unlike in the book where the focus was solely on the boy. I also liked how the boy interacted with other kids on the train, especially an African-American girl (Nona Gaye) whom he befriends. There's also a really sweet song called "Spirit of the Season" that she sings along with a boy credited as "Lonely Boy". The way the song is sung, and the CGI-imaging of the night sky, are both truly spectacular.

Some of the films excursions that I thought were going to be cheap plot devices actually served the film well. After all, a book that's roughly 30 pages long probably won't amount to a 2-hour movie. Still, these subplots were used in a way to not only cleverly characterize the main characters, but also to give a better dimension to the North Pole. You would never see the elves, how they transport themselves, and what the villages in Santa's North Pole look like if the film stuck straight to the book. Zemekis has consistently been very good at using computer animation to add not only to characters, but make their worlds far more elaborate and interesting.

With all that said, I had some major reservations about the film. While the animation was really good in terms of set design, I hated how it made the humans look. They almost looked like zombies at times, and it was a little scary.

Don't get me wrong. Motion capture animation is pretty amazing, and probably not as time consuming as regular animation. However, when the main characters are humans, and the conductor looks exactly like Tom Hanks, why not just film them? That would probably cut the $165 million budget down significantly, or at least I would imagine.

Also, it really irked me that most of the children did not have names. The main character is labeled "Hero Boy" in the closing credits, the black girl is named "Hero Girl", a nerdy boy is credited as "Know-It-All", and so on. Why not give them names? What's the harm in naming Hero Boy something like Tommy or Jimmy? It's not hard.

I also hated how the main characters are kids, yet the actors who do the voices for them are not kids. "Hero Boy" is actually voiced by Tom Hanks, although he actually sounds like a real kid. Same with Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari, and Eddie Deezen. While their child voices sound authentic, it seems like a lot of unnecessary work to digitally doctor their voices to make them sound like kids. Why not just (Gee, I don't know!) hire child actors to do the voices!?!?! It worked for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965), and it can't be difficult.

Tom Hanks doing the voices of six different characters felt more gimmicky to me than cutting edge. Hanks is far from the first actor to play multiple roles in a single movie, but Peter Sellers, Lee Marvin, or Eddie Murphy he is not. In the movies those actors were in as multiple characters, they disappeared into their characters so much that their multiple roles showed their acting ranges. Here, every character Hanks voices (except the boy) sounds like Hanks. You can tell that Hanks is the voice of the conductor, the hobo, the boy's father, and Santa Claus. The gimmick is so distracting that it takes you out of the movie for a few moments.

While "The Polar Express" has its hang ups, it can and should be considered the first Christmas classic of the CGI-age. It still gets re-released into theaters every Christmas, as it has a renewed following thanks to great 3D effects that are becoming increasingly popular amongst moviegoers. It also is one of the only adaptations of a children's book that adds to its source while also maintaining its heart. My guess is that many generations will return to it year after year, and it will keep ringing just like the bell in the story.

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