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wonderful holiday film
madpenguin4118 December 2004
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
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Enchantment, thrills, spectacle...looks great on DVD...
Neil Doyle22 November 2004
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.
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For Goodness Sake
jaqued29 November 2004
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'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.
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Will Become A Christmas Classic
Mel J20 December 2004
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 Christmas.

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.
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Engaging and Full of Christmas Spirit
KaceyS19 October 2006
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.
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The eyes don't have it...
Merwyn Grote23 November 2004
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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Should become a holiday classic
sak0073 January 2005
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.
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Best Christmas movie ever made
steve49er15 December 2004
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.
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It Just Keeps Getting Better
ccthemovieman-129 November 2005

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.
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This is one of the best animation features ever!
mary mcreynolds11 December 2004
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.
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This film means well, tries hard but misfires due to the extended length
lemon_magic27 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
For the first 10 minutes this film is a delight. The filmmakers and animators must have worked themselves into a frazzle to get this amount of detail and style into the film - the human characters look as if they were both rotoscoped AND computer animated, and all the inanimate or inorganic elements of the film - the landscapes, the houses, the trees, the Polar Express itself - are dazzling. If the movie had been a 22 minute 'short' (a la "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown"), it would have been one of the all time classics of Christmas animation. Unfortunately, Zemeckis and company felt they needed to expand "Polar Express" into a feature length movie, and the source material can't hold up to the extended length.

Face it, one of the great strengths of the children's book this movie adapts is the brevity and economy of its literary style - supplemented by evocative fantasy visuals that augment, not replace, the poetic resonance of the carefully chosen words. But here, the writers have to add extra plot elements, characters and dialog to the basic 'text' to extend it to feature length, and they just don't have the ability to triple the content while maintaining the magic of the original source. It's as if the Hallmark Card composers tried to expand on the works of Robert Frost - they can ape the style, but they can't get the resonance or the heart. It's well meant and agreeable, but it somehow misses the point.

It's also got Eddie Deezen doing one of the voices, which is always a minus for me. Deezen is still doing voice work after 20+ years in the business, so someone must like him, but all I can say for him is that he must be dependable and reliable...because he turns in his usual sinkhole of nasal suck. Sorry Eddie, I know you need the work, and it's nothing personal, but I hate you as an actor.

Tom Hanks, on the other hand, is his usual splendid self, and it's largely due to his efforts that I can enjoy the thinned out content of the various over-extended sequences. He puts so much warmth and dry humor into the various characters he voices that it almost gets this film over...if not for him, I would rate this film much lower.

Another problem: after a while, it is apparent that the animators are running out of ideas. For instance, they use a reverse 'zoom' pull back crane shot shot - that pulls back from a crowd to show the spectacle of hundreds of figures from an eagle eye view - way too much. It was sensational when it was used for the first time in "Gone With The Wind", and it's great here the first time they use it, but after a while, you can tell they're doing it again and again because they don't know what else to do. And there are a lot of musical numbers and dance scenes (a la "Shrek") that work fine at first, but really don't add anything to the story or the atmosphere. My favorite - the "Hot Chocolate" scene - is typical; it's light hearted and kind of clever, but Disney and Pixar do this kind of thing much better, and they integrate the musical numbers into the plot better.

And I hate to say it, but sometimes the art direction slips a bit and the gloriously life-like faces of the children and the train crew alarmingly devolve into the death-masks of soulless zombies. (This happens all the time in the cut-scenes for video-games). This is the peril of making computer animation as 'realistic' as possible - if every aspect of the production is not dead on, humans will look like the walking dead. This may be inevitable when you're doing a feature length animation , even when you are budgeted for 'state of the art', but it really detracts from the charm and sentimentality the movie is trying to instill.

I only rate this as a "6", but it's a STRONG "6", and there is enough to enjoy about this movie (especially the railway travel and boarding sequences of the Express itself) that I will gladly watch it again with any 8 year olds in the TV room who insist on seeing it during Christmas vacation. And there are times when the visuals are gorgeous enough to make an adult 'BELIEVE' again, if only for a second.
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One Christmas Eve a group of kids aboard a mystery train that's headed to the North Pole
ma-cortes14 January 2012
Charming and worthwhile adaptation about a timeless and marvelous Christmas story dealing with a boy boards a magical train which's driven to the North Pole and Santa Claus's home . Polar Express is an enjoyable Hollywood production , set on Christmas Eve , a wonderful and straight forward approach to the original's source material , based on a storybook written by Chris Van Allsburg who also created ¨Zahura¨ and ¨Jumanji¨ , being splendidly adopted . It is given the full ¨Motion Capture¨ deluxe treatment in this superior Holiday film . The production values & acting are both excellent, with just enough attractive to appeal to the tenderhearted, and with moving doses of allucinogenic adventure , thrilling events , case of the potentially frightening elements and adding sentiment ; all of them are blended into the mix, until, like a nice Christmas punch, the result appeals to all . The Christmas story tells of a boy who has reached an age when he begins to have materialistic doubts believing in Santa . The young boy is lying awake waiting for the sound of sleigh bells ringing from Santa's sleigh . The little boy receives a surprise, a steam engine's roar and whistle can be heard outside his window , he jumps from his bed and sees a train in the middle of his street , as he is visited by a strange Polar Express . A rare conductor (Tom Hanks) who displays no charity to mankind generally invites him on board to take an extraordinary trip to the outside his window . The doubting boy grabs his robe and rushes out the front North Pole with many other pajama-clad children . The little hero boy meets a group of children (voices from Nora Gaye , Eddie Deezen, Peter Scolari) . There, he gets an extraordinary gift only those who still believe in Santa can experience a nd will learn the error of his ways . To his delight, the roller-coaster ride complete his beliefs in one night giving him the opportunity to mend his thoughts to reaffirm Mr Claus .

Splendid Tom Hanks who plays the train conductor of a magical express heading for the North Pole, in addition to five other parts. A marvelous recounting of a Christmas tale and Tom Hanks demonstrates once again his versatility on screen in this retelling of a surrealist, fantastic adventure that results to be a kaleidoscopic marvel . It packs spectacular set pieces , breathtaking sound effects , highly imaginative camera angles and impressive special effects ; furthermore a sensible musical score by Alan Silvestri , including a touching leitmotif . Atmospherically as a complete package it demonstrates the perfection of modern computer animation techniques . The movie is as comfortable and heartwarming as an old Christmas card .The whole concept of looking at a rapid train towards North Pole is creative in and of itself. After watching the movie, you may look at your life from the same enjoyable perspectives . Special effects add a nice little touch , but it is Tom Hanks's interaction with the various characters that really steal the show . Hanks manages to capture pure magic with his stunningly awesome portrayal of main characters , the Hero boy and the conductor , and it is definitely worth a look . It's fun and different approach to the Christmas tale with top notch effects by means of ¨Motion Capture¨ , a technique magnificently developed by Robert Zemeckis who will repeat in other films as ¨Beowulf¨ and ¨Christmas Carol¨ . A highly recommended film that nobody should miss it especially during Christmas time . ¨Robert Zemeckis's Polar Express¨ still ranks as one of the best adaptations of Christmas stories ever. This animated retelling about a doubting little boy taken on a journey of self-redemption and knowledge will appeal to Tom Hanks buffs , computer games enthusiasts and eye-candy fans .
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All Aboard The Polar Express.... to HELL
cohete23 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
The Polar Express. Director Robert Zemeckis, I love Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Contact, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (NO QUESTION MARK AFTER THAT MOVIE TITLE!!). And Tom Hanks, one of my favorite actors. The reviews of this movie were almost unanimous saying that this is an instant holiday classic. Ebert & Roeper give it two ENTHUSIASTIC thumbs up! Even Ebert's written review gave it a full four stars! Wow... OK... this I gotta see! But wait... the motion capture used looks really weird. Hmm... maybe I'm NOT so interested in seeing this anymore.

"Well, you comin?" says the train conductor to the boy in The Polar Express. The boy is reluctant at first, and the train begins on its course without him. The boy soon changes his mind and jumps aboard just in the nick of time.

Now, most of you have probably decided to not jump aboard this train and wait for the TV Train or Rental Express (hee hee, I'm so witty and clever). I, on the other hand was like the boy who was skeptical at first, but jumped on to see what the fuss was all about.

I just wasted $10 and two hours of my life.

I can't even begin to explain the pain in my stomach. The Polar Express was so painful to sit through it's not even funny. There's no story. There's no pay off. You sit there through these series of events and you wonder "is there any point to all this?" It'd be one thing if the scenes were entertaining... but they're not.

This movie is void of any emotion, any soul, any ounce of plausibility, and most of all: any fun. This movie is NOT FUN.

And let's talk about the way these characters look for a second. Saying that it's the same technology (motion, I'm sorry, "PERFORMANCE" capture) used to make Gollum is a real shame because Gollum was Believable!!! Photo-realism just does not translate well in this medium. You're using animation, why not design the characters to be more expressive? Or why not just film it all with real actors? They certainly COULD have. We as people know all too well how we walk, talk, interact with things. Seeing it on the screen done unconvincingly is not impressive. Caricatures done convincingly is all the more believable, as The Incredibles has proved. The result of The Polar Express now is as if they took corpses of dead children and turned them into puppets. They're moving and talking, but where's the heart? Where's the soul? That's what we're seeing on the screen. UGH UGH UGH UGH UGH! This movie is so horrible!

There's a scene early in the movie where the boy takes a girl's train ticket from her seat because she got up and left it. He wants to give it to her but you sit there going "why??!" Just leave it.. she's coming back! He of course loses the ticket and "adventure" ensues. And then there's a boy who's stuck in the back of the train all the time, and they bring him hot chocolate, but he can't come up and join the rest of the kids? And then there's this annoying "know it all" kid with the voice of a 35 year old. It's all so very disturbing.

Oh and there's songs! One girl goes into the back of the train where the lonely kid is. He's singing a song to himself. And then she interrupts and joins in! They end the song as they're holding hands, looking into each others eyes as if they were lovers. Very awkward. I won't even go into details about the song about serving hot chocolate while waiters dance around the train. "keep it hot keep it hot!" The one scene where Tom Hanks slides on his knees with his arms stretched up in the air has to be one of the most memorably BAD scenes in the history of bad scenes.

I have to stop now or I'll just kill myself. I need to watch something crappy to cleanse the palette. Yes... crappy is better than The Polar Express.

"The one thing about trains, it doesn't matter where you're going, what matters is deciding to get on."

Don't get on this one. For the love of God, I have decided for you! This is just another film taken from a children's book stretched incredibly thin into movie form. It happened with the Grinch and The Cat in the Hat and those were horrible also. But who can blame them? I bet if I took the book, The Berenstein Bears' Too Much Junk Food, and turned that into a feature film, it'd probably be pretty dull also. But at least... there'd be a story and a point, which is what The Polar Express is so lacking of.
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The First Kiddie-Xmas Film Noir Warning: Spoilers
I'm a huge fan of Chris Van Allsburg, and especially his book, "Polar Express." I love Tom Hanks.

I really wanted to like this movie ...

Reviewers said that the motion capture technique resulted in freakishly animatronic looking characters. At first that aspect of the film did bug me, but I did get used to it.

But ... I really didn't like this movie. It was too dark, and it wasn't dark because it had a few scary moments; there's more to it than that.

First, what's good. "Polar Express" contains some stunningly lovely and/or remarkable scenes. The words on a page are seen from below the page, as if the page were transparent; wolves and eagles follow a slip of paper as it is blown about by the wind; Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Christmas hits play in a North Pole toy factory.

All very worth seeing, worth, perhaps, the price of admission for hardcore film fans.

But the movie was simply too dark and too PC for me. And it reaches too far.

The PC aspect of the movie is an insertion that doesn't exist in the book. The main character is provided with a companion, an African American girl.

The animatronic look of the motion capture character is unpleasantly emphasized by the animatronic characterization of this girl. The script bends over backward to make her purely good, cool, and admirable, with no negative qualities, and that effort is obvious and alienating.

American audiences are grown up enough that we can accept a flawed -- i.e., human -- African American character. We don't really need a cartoon version of the character Sidney Poitier played in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." There is a Poor White Boy character added, as well. Whoever wrote this character has no idea what it is to be poor, and treats this character with zero respect, and a great deal of condescension. The "lesson" this poor boy is meant to learn at the end will have self respecting poor people gagging.

Finally, the movie was just too dark, with none of the redemption richer movies have been able to offer. There are scenes of perilous efforts to walk atop a moving train during a snow storm, and scenes of vulnerable children trying to cross a dangerous bridge.

"Wizard of Oz" and other classics contain similarly scary scenes, but those films also offer deep and moving scenes of genuine empowerment and redemption. I missed such redemptive, powerful scenes in "Polar Express." This film will have its audience for whom it works perfectly. It does offer scenes as stark and striking as anything from German Expressionism.

What I missed were the warmth, the depth, the heart of the best of "Wizard of Oz" or "The Little Princess" ... or the Chris Van Allsburg book, "The Polar Express."
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What an awful children's Christmas movie!
jnfz24 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I just watched this with my kids last night. I'm sorry, but I just can't square this Santa and North Pole with a standard like that of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." In "Rudolph" it was full of love and humor, forgiveness and humility. This Polar Express version is dark, authoritarian, and punitive. I also can't believe it earned a "G" rating with so much excessive danger and stressful suspense (train on the ice, Christmas star nearly killing an elf, etc) - my three-year old got scared and had to turn her head six times! How awful! (She kept coming back because her 6-year old brother was still watching.)

In "Polar Express" the conductor, Santa and the elves are humorless and of a "law and order" mentality that is prim and schoolmarmish - this is Christmas Eve, guys! Loosen up! And what is with Santa, anyway? He clearly has a messianic complex that is fed by the uniformed cheers of thousands of sycophantic elves at the Nazi rally - er, midnight takeoff of the sleigh - when he makes his appearance. And when Santa confronts the kid who picks up the lost reindeer bell, why so impolite? The boy picks up the bell and then Santa appears out of nowhere and towers over him, and the kid turns around and is obviously scared - c'mon, it's SANTA, people! - and what does Santa do? No introductions, or "Hello, I'm Santa, what's your name?" Instead, he says, "What did you say?" in a very accusatory manner. What a jerk! But then, he runs a Bushian North Pole that has secret video monitors on every kid alive, conveniently priming tomorrow's kids for a future with no privacy. From saintly divine judgment to a petty spy: that's this Santa. Imagine Soup Nazi mates with Santa (woah), and you have this guy.

So I give this 2 stars because there IS some lip service to the real message of Christmas (what, it's not about just getting stuff?) and the graphics of the train (especially the hot chocolate sequence - that is actually excellent) are good in a Fritz Lang sort of way. But if you want the spirit of Christmas, this is NOT the movie.
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This is vile
Rectangular_businessman16 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"The Polar Express " was an awful movie. What makes this movie worst is the hypocrisy to present itself as a innocent,s sugary and harmless tale for children about the "true " meaning of Christmas. I never read the book of Chris Van Allsburg in what it was inspired, but the most disappointing is that it was directed by Robert Zemeckis, the same director who made the great animated film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", an excellent movie where he proved that the animation could be appreciated for kids and adults as well, while in this movie it seems that he was victim of his own ambition and he give too much importance to give the characters impressive level of detail and "realism" rather than a interesting story.

Everything from this movie seems to be so artificial and lifeless:Despite the "realistic" appearance of the characters, they look more like creepy mannequins with eyes made of glass rather than living beings.

But the worst part of "The Polar Express" is the "message" in this movie, which is just vile. For example, in one scene, where one kid refuses to enter into the Polar Express, the character that looks like Tom Hanks makes a gesture like saying "you are stupid for not accepting my offering ". There is also the scene where the diversity token girl says something like the toys were so "warm " and things like that. All the movie the kids keep talking about how big would be the gifts that Santa would give to them . There is even a song about that.

Filled with lots of irrelevant scenes and annoying characters (Not to mention the horrible songs) the movie ends with the main character finally discovering the "true" meaning of Christmas (Or whatever): Guess what it is? The gifts! it is true that many Christmas movies have hidden subtexts and messages like that ,but "The Polar Express " it's completely shameless about celebrating materialism and greed.

I don't think that "The Polar Express" were a very appropriate film for the kids,because if is that what the kids would learn, I don't want to think how would be our future.
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A laugh at the true spirit of Christmas
martha_tate28 December 2006
I would first like to name the positive aspects of the film, as to make it fair: The characters were wonderfully rendered. Tom Hanks did a good job and, unlike others, I didn't find them to be creepy. The backgrounds were great. You could almost feel the cold of the night while watching. The most delicious eye-candy available.

But that's where it ends. First of all, the message they were trying to pass was one of believing in Christmas. I'm sorry, but it's a rather bad faith you're giving us. The poor boy, who always hated Christmas for not getting presents, finally accepts it - and it's a huge present. They added some completely perfect black girl. C'mon, I don't tolerate racism, but this kind of political correctness makes me just as sick. The nerd kid was amusing, but somewhat a cliché. What I mean is that the message is one of the true meaning of Christmas being presents. That is sickening. Children are already spoiled and materialistic enough, why give them more of that.

The musical numbers were completely embarrassing, and the way they just added and added to the original story made the movie look disjointed. They turned some little Christmas story into a roller-coaster of action sequences, disjointed scenes and a corruption of the true meaning of Christmas.

It's natural that only children can hear the bell, since it stands for the materialistic and commercial aspect of Christmas.
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Creepy Cold and Charmless
nancyb-95 January 2005
I'll give this movie three "C"s for Creepy, Cold, and Charmless.

Someone commented that the movie might be better titled "Night of the Living Dead" for the creepy "possessed" look of the characters. I'll second that.

The action was typical 2004 – something wild and dangerous happening constantly, never a dull moment in which to think or feel. If you've raised your kids on video games, they'll love it.

And the message? Well, at the very beginning the father tells the main character "Santa Claus is as real as Christmas." If that's true, then I guess Christmas is truly nothing more than a giant gift-giving extravaganza. The "poor boy" tells the other kids that he's always found Christmas disappointing -- presumably because he's never had much in the way of gifts. At the end of the movie, he finally ecstatically embraces Christmas – in the form of a huge present.

The best Christmas show every made, in my opinion, was the less than ½ hour original "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss. The sum-it-up message of THAT show was:

"Christmas Day is in our grasp/ As long as we have hands to clasp.

Welcome Christmas while we stand/ Heart to heart and hand in hand."

"The Polar Express" is all about belief – but not belief in the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ – not even belief in the beauty of Christmas itself. It's about believing in the big fat guy in the red suit and confidence that you'll find a pile of presents under that tree come Christmas morning. That kind of Christmas can easily be stolen by any Grinch.
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"The Polar Express" Is A Surprisingly Good Trip
D_Burke13 December 2011
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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A Complete Train Wreck
movesukkaz4 December 2004
What an abysmal piece of trash. This is nothing but a lame attempt to use Hanks as a vehicle to cash in on some new 'technology'. The film is a total dud. Dumb, boring, annoying, irritating...I mean everyone looks like a freakin' mannequin, but oh wait, they MOVE realistically. So amazing. Too bad the novelty wears off in what, the first minute?

The train is filled with the most annoying bunch of kids you'll ever hear. There is absolutely NO PLOT whatsoever, just a train riding around with some stupid obstacle getting in the way every 5 minutes so they can show off more of that amazing new technology. Pad this out to 90 minutes and you have TPE. The movie is so beyond hurting, I mean we're forced to sit through singing and dancing waiters for what? So things can move on screen really fast and we can be even more stunned by those amazing visuals? Its like they just threw anything and everything out there to get this to feature length.

Tom Hanks is as awful as ever. I mean the guy has zero range. Every movie he's the exact same no matter how hard he tries, even his voice as a conductor is unbelievable. I'm so glad this is flopping because its not a movie, its a pathetic attempt by Hanks and some computer geeks to milk people. Next time give us a movie instead of a showcase of your computer coding. One of the worst of the year.
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I really hated this movie
eljaykay121925 December 2008
I do think Tom Hanks is a good actor. I enjoyed reading this book to my children when they were little. I was very disappointed in the movie. One character is totally annoying with a voice that gives me the feeling of fingernails on a chalkboard. There is a totally unnecessary train/roller coaster scene. There are some characters and scenes that seem scary for little children for whom this movie was made. The North Pole scenes with Santa and the elves could have been cute and charming. There was absolutely no warmth or charm to these scenes or characters. It usually doesn't work to make a short children's book into a feature film. This movie totally grates on my nerves.
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An abomination
jackedit16 November 2004
This movie is awful. It creates characters not in the book, and some of them are ethnic or racial stereotypes. Including an obnoxious little Jewish boy and a politically correct little black girl. Not to mention the Yiddish speaking elves. The book was a simple story about belief, and this movie is a dark, ugly, and needlessly scary movie about nothing.

The animation is superb, but the story has been ruined by Hollywood.

The good thing is that this movie will take a bath in the box office and maybe producers will learn to keep from tampering with a story that needs no improvement. Hanks was overdone and i don't see why there couldn't have been other actors' voices be used.
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A Wonderful Experience
moviemattb24 December 2014
I think this movie deserves a higher rating than a 6.6 on IMDb. I know its just an opinion to everyone else, but I just don't think it deserves to be ignored because "The Polar Express" is one of the greatest experience that I have ever seen, since when it first came out back in 2004 in IMAX 3D. My favorite part in IMAX 3D is where the train starts to go too fast, and we get this awesome experience that you are on a roller coaster ride. I felt like that I was part of that ride, and it was like "WOW!" Of course, I am only watching this in 2D which is fine but it will never be the same experience as what the IMAX 3D did. So, with that said, "The Polar Express" is about a boy who doesn't believe as he gets on a magical train known as the Polar Express as it leads up to the North Pole so he and the rest of the children are about to go see Santa Claus on Christmas Eve late at night. I don't know if the movie has a message but if it does, then I thought it is well done as we should know that seeing is believing as it for us on what we believe. The animation in this movie is spectacular, and I thought the animators did a great job on rendering these characters to make them look real. Of course, you can argue about on why Robert Zemeckis should have just shot this movie in live action instead of animating it. So, what do I know because I honestly don't know; maybe it is just for that kind of style as they are trying to make these characters to be more faithful to the book. Anyway, I thought Zemeckis does a great job on making this movie, and making this a whole lot of fun. Tom Hanks does a wonderful job to work with motion capture as he is playing each character that he is doing; it is also kind of hard on which actor or actress is voicing these characters or doing motion capture but I will leave that up to you. Nevertheless, Hanks was really good in it. The music by Alan Silvestri is very well scored, and the songs that he teamed up with Glen Ballard are pretty good too. I also don't mind if the filmmakers had to add new scenes that have nothing to do with the book, because folks, the book is short so that is probably why they had to expand the book into a movie that is over an hour an a half long. I was fine with it, and have nothing to complain about. So, enough talking about who or what is having problems with this movie, I just thought "The Polar Express" is a wonderful experience and would love if this was brought back into theaters, as well as showing it in IMAX 3D. I give this movie a 10 out of 10.
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Should Be Taken Off The Shelves
rcdd082321 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
For one this is not a kids movie. It was scary for anyone who watches it with those horrifying cgi faces and the bum/thief/ghost on the top of the train. He scared me and I am 27. Imagine a small kid viewing that despicable man. Blockbuster should burn their copies of this movie or put it in the horror section right away. The best comment I read was the description of the north pole looking like Nazi true. It was a place without snow. What North Pole story shouldn't have snow and why make it look like a nuclear power plant.

I really want a refund for the 1 1/2 hours it took from my life. Don't bother watching this movie. You will cry.
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NOT a young kids movie
DVDDad28 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I must have missed something that happened between the time I was very young and now. A big change, indeed. Exactly when did accepting a ride on a magical train, sent by Santa mean that you're in for a nightmarish trip fraught with peril? The number of times the kids on this train are holding on for dear life is in this nightmarish vision is ridiculous. I mean -- come on! -- isn't this a Christmas story?!?

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not someone who sits at home, bitter because the whole world isn't sugar-coated. No way! In fact, I like a good action flick. But this was a betrayal for anyone who's read the book to their kids and thinks it'll be a fun little flick for young children. You see, I can't count the number of times I've read this book to my two girls (ages 6 and 4). It's wonderful! So much so, that I never dreamed I actually needed to read a REVIEW before taking them to see it. Yes, dear reader, I made the ultimate mistake -- I actually trusted Hollywood for once. And I paid for it. My error was figuring that, worse case scenario, it would be really dumb, or not well done, or simply just boring. Boy was I wrong, as only parents of small children can appreciate.

Let me be specific here (*minor* spoiler alert!). The first 1/2 of this film is like one big nightmare with just a hint of sugar-coating: kids that are pretty sure they are going to the North Pole, but not *really* sure; a conductor that barks orders with all the warmth of a drill-sergeant made of dry ice; a little girl who loses her ticket when the not-so-nice conductor comes looking for it ("but it was right here..."); a boy who tries to return her ticket, only to find her inexplicably missing when he opens the door to the next car and suddenly comes very close to falling between the cars to the tracks below; screaming children on an out of control train as it hurtles through the blackness… I could go on and on. This is not the trip to the North Pole I envision. It's dark, dreary, haunting and lifeless. It's something that might have come out of the mind of Alfred Hitchcock if he ever tried to make a kids' movie. Well done, but definitely not for young kids.

My 4-year-old daughter agreed. While my wife and I looked at each other with that look of "what have we gotten ourselves into", she began crying. I kept thinking the movie would lighten up, but it never did -- one peril after another. Unfortunately, I don't know first-hand if it ever got better. I took my daughter out of the theater and spent the next hour killing time while my wife and 6-year-old finished the movie. My 6-year-old said it was scary, but she still enjoyed it. My wife was thoroughly unimpressed. If it had just been the two of us, it would have been fine but, again, this was a G-rated Christmas movie!

In short, if your kids are still young enough to want to make cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, you might want to think twice about taking them to see The Polar Express. An instant holiday classic? I don't think so. Then again, maybe for Halloween...
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