The Polar Express


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Polar Express
"Robert Zemeckis has created a unique and (dare I say it?) magical work of art."

Do You Believe In Magic was a Monkees song, but it has relevance here.

The boy is troubled. You can see it in his eyes. His parents are putting his little sister to bed with the usual Christmas Eve flimflam about Santa not coming to AWAKE children. The boy is old enough now to find this kind of stuff pathetic. Who's fooling who? He's not going to sleep AT ALL just to prove that Santa is a sham. There, he said it! Or, at least, thought it. Santa is daddy in a red... zzzzzz.

Copy picture

He wakes up to the sound of a steam engine close to the house. He tells himself he hasn't been sleeping, he's been... watching. He goes to the window and there it is, a sparkling, shuddering locomotive, with writing on the side: POLAR EXPRESS. He puts on his dressing gown, tearing one of its pockets in his haste, letting marbles scatter across the floor. Outside, he walks through the snow to this impossible train that shouldn't be there and it looks warm inside and he can see the faces of other children staring down at him. The Inspector says there is a seat for him. He asks where they are going and The Inspector says: "To the North Pole."

The boy says he hasn't got a ticket. The Inspector says: "Look in your pocket." Inside the one that's not torn he finds a gold ticket. It's like magic, he thinks, and he's afraid and says he doesn't want to go. "Suit yourself," The Inspector says and the train begins to move away. The boy is in two minds and then one and suddenly he's running to catch up. He leaps aboard and the most extraordinary adventure of his young life is about to begin.

Films have souls like everything else and this one is pure, remaining true to Chris Van Allsburg's book, as well as to the spirit of imagination. By using a special kind of animation that involves an actor's physical movement - in this case Tom Hanks, whose presence becomes a living entity, albeit in the body of CGI - like Andy Serkis's Gollum from The Lord Of The Rings, director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis has created a unique and (dare I say it?) magical work of art.

The story is filled with excitement and wonder and odd travellers, like the ghost of a hobo who rides the roof of the train. There are dancing waiters and a red-bearded stoker, whose howls clear the tracks of a thousand caribou. There are the children themselves, the saintly Sister Sarah, Billy from The Wrong Side Of The Tracks and The Knowitall Kid, who has all the answers, except why? There is a frozen lake, over which the train must glide, and the City of Elves, where the mythical Father C resides.

The film looks like nothing else but Van Allsburg's illustrations come alive. So much love and care and dedication has gone into the making of it that cynicism has no place here and those who decry Hollywood as a casino of dreams should listen to the words the boy utters at the end.

"What did you say?" Santa asks, incredulous.

"I believe," the boy says.

Reviewed on: 02 Dec 2004
Share this with others on...
The Polar Express packshot
A sceptical boy rides on a magic train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Out on re-issue.
Amazon link

Read more The Polar Express reviews:

Scott Macdonald *****
Josh Morrall ***

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles Jr, based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg

Starring: voices of Tom Hanks, Leslie Zemeckis, Eddie Deezen, Peter Scolari, Daryl Sabara, Usabella Peregrina, Jimmy Bennett, Andre Sogliuzzo

Year: 2004

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Incredibles
Toy Story