The Polar Express


Reviewed by: Josh Morrall

Polar Express
"A beautiful painting that doesn't speak a thousand words."

It has taken 10 years for Chris Van Allsburg's charming picture book to make it to the big screen and it has been worth the wait. Mostly.

Robert Zemeckis has made a leap forward in animation with The Polar Express, the story of a sceptical young boy who gets on a train destined for the North Pole. Motion capture truly does capture the performances of its characters and the human nuances that have eluded animators for so long are present here in spectacular detail. For this the director deserves an Oscar.

Copy picture

Now, let's talk plot. The Polar Express is a tiny story that can be read in 10 minutes. It is numbingly obvious that Zemeckis has tried desperately to fatten up the tale with a barrage of subplots, which eventually arc back to what is a very weak central plot. It is certainly not a bad one and I'm as much of a sucker for Christmas spirit stories as any five year old, but there simply is not enough here to constitute 100 minutes.

The film chugs along at a slow pace, capturing a midnight mood by accident. The excitement is then delivered in gratuitous and all-too-common roller coaster sequences, which, no doubt, would look so much better in 3D IMAX, the format that it was made for.

In terms of characters, the little boy from the book has been turned into a sceptic, in order to encourage some form of tension. It is a good move, as without this, there is absolutely no drama whatsoever. Tom Hanks voices the kid, as he does almost all the male characters. To have him speak for the child is a mistake, as, although he is good at it, the idea of the boy envisioning the conductor and Santa in the template of his father is lost, not only by this, but also through the underdevelopment of the relationship between father and son.

Hero Girl (Nona Gaye) is the film's best elaboration from the original story, and her moral journey is a well-developed one. The message delivered to the Lonely Boy (Peter Scolari) by the Conductor (Hanks again) on his ticket is ambiguous and needs further explanation if it is to be heeded by the film's younger viewers.

The Polar Express will be remembered for its original and visually superb presentation. Plot, character development and pace will be (in some ways, already are) overlooked when the film is labelled a classic of our time.

It is wonderful that such an innocent and moral-driven film is still being made and yet it would have been so much better as a half hour short. There isn't enough to work with and the subplots feel force-fed, looking like a beautiful painting that doesn't speak a thousand words.

Reviewed on: 02 Jan 2005
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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:

Angus Wolfe Murray *****
Scott Macdonald *****

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


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