The film is listed in the 2006 Guinness Book of World Records as the "first all-digital capture" film, where all acted parts were done in digital capture.
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The movie takes place in the year 1955.
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This is the third Tom Hanks film directed by Robert Zemeckis. The previous films were Forrest Gump (1994) and Cast Away (2000). The Hero Boy's lost ticket flying through the air is reminiscent of the feather in Forrest Gump.
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Hero Boy's real name is never mentioned. However, according to books containing information about The Polar Express, including art books and fact books, Hero Boy's name is Chris, after the novel's author, Chris Van Allsburg.
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Before Hero Boy boards the Polar Express, the clock says 11:55. The time doesn't change until the first gift of Christmas is given, near the end of the film.
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In the North Pole City communications room, an elf describing a bad little boy in New Jersey named Steven who is terrorizing his two little sisters. This line is a nod to Robert Zemeckis' friend and mentor, Steven Spielberg. Spielberg grew up in New Jersey, and has admitted many times that he frequently terrorized his two younger sisters.
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In the scene where the engineer and fireman are trying to grab the pin necessary for the trains throttle, in the background you can see a working flux capacitor. This is a reference to Back to The Future and can possibly mean the the Polar Express is a functioning time machine.
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The film used 3D motion capture techniques to digitally record the actors' physical performances before "skinning" them with their animated forms. The children's roles were acted by adults, using oversized props to get the movement right.
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Three different actors play the role of Hero Boy. Tom Hanks does the motion capturing and adult voice, Daryl Sabara does the voice acting, and Josh Hutcherson does additional motion capturing.
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The address spoken by the conductor early in the film "11344 Edbrooke" is the real address of Robert Zemeckis' childhood house. The house is in a south side Chicago neighborhood called Roseland.
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A close examination of the ticket numbers reveals that they all contain the number 1225. Pere Marquette No. 1225 was used as a model for the Polar Express locomotive. 12-25 also refers to the date of Christmas, December 25th.
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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.
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When the Hero Boy first meets the Hobo on the roof of the train, he is playing the carol "Good King Wenceslas." The story of Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia is that of a king braving the harsh winter to bring alms to the poor on the Feast of Stephan, December 26th. His page finds he can't go on through the harsh conditions and is directed to walk in the footprints that the king has made in the snow. The Hobo directs Hero Boy to follow behind him and ultimately helps him reach the engine before they make it to the tunnel, thus allowing him to find and help his friend. This is also a representation of the Holy Spirit idea of the Hobo, that he guides those who believe in Him to safety, even in perilous times.
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Billy is the only person aboard the Polar Express, passenger or crew member, who is identified by name.
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The year that the film is based on (1955) is the same as the first Back to the Future film when Marty goes back in time. (another Robert Zemeckis feature film)
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At the end, Santa's reflection is faintly visible in the sleigh bell for a few seconds, in close-up, after Hero Boy places the bell on the table.
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When the Hero Boy pulls the train whistle, he says "I've wanted to do that my whole life". In Back to the Future Part III (1990), another Robert Zemeckis film, Doc Brown does and says the same.
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This is first animated film to use performance capture technology.
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The close shots of Hero Girl's train ticket floating in the air are a nod to the trademark shots of a feather doing the same in Forrest Gump (1994) which also starred Tom Hanks.
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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.
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The movie is based on the book "The Polar Express." Author Chris Van Alsburg also wrote "Jumanji" and "Zathura".
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Several reviews called the motion-capture animation "creepy." In the 1978 book "Robots: Fact, Fiction, and Prediction", Masahiro Mori coined the term "uncanny valley" to describe the revulsion that people can feel when they encounter a robot that looks human enough, but is clearly not alive.
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The locomotive in the movie is based on the Pere Marquette 1225, a restored steam locomotive located in Owosso, MI. Many of the film's train sound effects are recordings of the actual train. The train runs between Owosso and nearby Ashley during the holiday season.
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Peter Scolari starred alongside Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies (1980). It was the first significant role for both actors.
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The premiere was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, author Chris Van Allsburg's hometown.
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The visuals for North Pole City are based on the architecture of the Pullman plant, maker of Pullman railroad cars, in Chicago. The clock tower, which Santa comes out of, is based on the Pullman factory clock tower. Many of the other buildings are based on Pullman's unique architecture.
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When Hero Boy falls asleep, the clock in his bedroom reads 10:20, the same time as the clock in Scrooge's bedroom when Marley's ghost appears in the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol (1951).
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A musical theme heard throughout the movie is identical to that heard in "Elf" when Santa's sleigh finally gets airborne heading south over Fifth Avenue.
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The first feature-length film to be released in both 35 mm and IMAX 3D.
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When the shot of the Christmas tree pans out, all points of the compass point south.
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The Polar Express is another Christmas Carol movie. Hero Boy is Scrooge and doesn't believe in Santa anymore causing the three ghosts of Christmas (the Hobo, Conductor, and Santa) to change him forever. The Hobo is the Ghost of Christmas Past, and plays the role of Christmas Future. He tries to intimidate Hero Boy into changing his ways using only himself instead of the future. The Conductor is the Ghost Christmas Present and is in charge of keeping order in the present to get Hero Boy to Santa. Finally, Santa is Christmas Future and changes Hero Boy forever, like Scrooge was. They even pay homage to Dickens' classic by having a Scrooge puppet dance on screen briefly. (Controlled by Christmas Past)
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Warner Bros.' first computer-animated film.
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A University of Michigan pennant is on the wall behind Hero Boy's bed. Chris Van Allsburg is a real-life graduate of the University. Pere Marquette 1225, the locomotive used as the basis for the one in the film, was donated to the Michigan State University after being retired from active service. It was displayed on the campus from 1957 to 1983.
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In the beginning of the movie, Hero Boy looks at a picture of himself on a store Santa's lap. The store is Herpolsheimer's, an old department store in Grand Rapids,Michigan, Chris Van Allsburg's hometown. Later, the train passes by the store.
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Director Robert Zemeckis' wife Leslie provides the motion capture for both Hero Boy's mom and sister.
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The train set at the end is a recreation of the new Lionel Polar Express train set, combined with the older Lionel Berkshire and the older tubular track.
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This was the first mainstream film to be simultaneously released as a 3D IMAX presentation.
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When the hero boy rings the bell at the north pole, the noise it makes is the word "doubter".
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When Hero Boy first meets The Hobo, he is playing "Good King Wenceslas" on a hurdy-gurdy.
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This is the second film featuring Tom Hanks singing Good King Wenceslas. The first time he sang it was in the car with Dan Akroyd in Dragnet (1987).
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One of the latest-released Warner Bros.' animated films to be rated G by the MPAA alongside The Reef (2006).
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The first computer-animated film to be a musical.
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Rob Reiner was attached to direct, but then dropped out.
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The score contains a few key notes from the score of Reindeer Games (2000), also composed by Alan Silvestri.
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All of the waiters' faces were modeled after Andrew Ableson
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The opening scenes, particularly in Hero Boy's bedroom, include two closeups of a chrome hubcap with a baseball lying next to it. During the second closeup of the hubcap as the boy's parents leave his room for the night after checking in on him, a small reflection of the Polar Express train is visible in the center of the hubcap.
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During the sequence when Hero Girl's ticket is lost outside the train, just after the eaglet drops it, the train bursts out of a tunnel. The tunnel bears the number 1225. Usually the number would represent the year the tunnel was built but here signifies Christmas.
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The mini Polar Express under their Christmas tree was actually a present.
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