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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 12.7%
Average: 26.98%
Pretty Bad: 19.84%
Total Crap: 12.7%

9 reviews, 72 user ratings

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Polar Express, The
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by Lybarger

"It's not as bad as getting a lump of coal for Christmas, but…"
3 stars

All too often movies seem to get made in order to demonstrate new high tech gizmos instead of telling a good story.

Once upon a time, Robert Zemeckis was one filmmaker who avoided this trap by finding or co-writing engaging tales that utilizes special effects to serve the rest of the film.

Sadly, the instincts that guided him through Who Framed Roger Rabbit fail him during The Polar Express. In adapting Chris Van Allsburg's (Jumanji) 1995 short picture book, Zemeckis and William Broyles, Jr. try to pad the story to reach a 90-minute running time. As they proceed, the two emphasize spectacle over narrative.

Admittedly, much of the spectacle is impressive. A lad who's starting to doubt the validity of all things Christmas wakes up the night before the holiday to discover a giant locomotive has stopped outside his parents' home.

The train is called the Polar Express, and it takes its passengers all the way to Santa's workshop on the North Pole. Along the way, he encounters a fussy conductor (who looks and sounds a bit like Tom Hanks), a mysterious hobo (who also sounds like Hanks), some other kids, a horde of elves and even Santa himself (who's voice sounds like the star of Forrest Gump).

The journey is far from smooth. One little girl's (Nona M. Gaye) ticket gets lost in the most convoluted way possible. Parts of the train break off in transit, and caribou can bring the Polar Express to a halt.

As can the script.

Zemeckis and Broyles really don't flesh out the characters very well, so it's a chore to develop much interest in the film except as a massive depository of computer generated eye candy. Some major characters lack names, much less personalities. Our protagonist is listed as "hero boy," and Gaye's is dubbed "Hero Girl."

The animation techniques in The Polar Express are similar to those used to turn Andy Serkis into Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. With motion detecting sensors placed all over his face and body, Hanks was able to portray several characters that animators would later flesh out. As a result, Hanks was even able to portray the "Hero Boy."

It's a nifty technical trick, but after a few minutes it gets tiresome hearing some variation of Hanks' voice coming out of different characters' mouths. Hanks is certainly capable, but some of the magic is lost when the voice sounds just a little too familiar.

The character designs are also problematic. The populace of The Polar Express look almost-but-not-quite human. They have an eerie Stepfordian appearance that makes them unengaging. The more stylized look that the Pixar and Dreamworks studios' characters have would have been preferable. If the surroundings aren't real, it helps if the characters aren't either.

The Polar Express almost redeems itself with eye-popping action scenes, but Alan Silvestri's score forgettable tunes sound like a naked attempt at a Best Original Song Oscar nomination.

Despite some technical pizzazz, this flick ends up leaving viewers as cold as the North Pole itself.

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originally posted: 01/02/05 15:41:52
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good christmas movie 4 stars
12/17/11 Liz Nice story, extremely creepy animation 2 stars
12/24/09 Shawn This film sucks. You need to be on acid to to make sense of it. 1 stars
12/14/09 RLan A good christmas movie. Best viewed by families. 4 stars
12/04/09 RK Yes, it's a little weird...but also very good. Love the 3 kids, esp the girl. 4 stars
1/23/09 Seinfeld Lover Yet ANOTHER great book ruined when it became a movie 1 stars
1/15/09 Anonymous. not many, if any, animated movies are like this one. 4 stars
9/17/08 Chad An absolutely perfect animated film, my all time favorite animated movie 5 stars
9/03/08 Shaun Wallner Great Kids Film! 5 stars
5/31/07 ES Zzzzz 2 stars
3/27/07 kathy underheart childress' review made be blow chunks. Yeah, the 'holiday classic' noone bothers with today 1 stars
12/29/06 David Cohen Eddie Deezan and wooden facial expressions bring down a potential classic 3 stars
12/25/06 dk Soulless but entertaining. 4 stars
12/03/06 Tangelo Soosepot Evokes winter. Takes the X out of X-mas and inserts creepy Santa. 2 stars
12/03/06 Mary Ruined not only a great book but the SPIRIT of Christmas too. 1 stars
12/02/06 M. Wolff An ugly, dead thing. This mushy horror could kill Christmas. 1 stars
9/29/06 Big Fan Best X-mas movie on the planet 5 stars
7/12/06 ian afford good to watch at xmas with the kids in booze fueled coma 3 stars
1/04/06 jeffrey blake great film,an animated feature that adults can enjoy 5 stars
12/16/05 Quigley the glacier gulch scene is worth $9. the movie is both stunning and occasionally emotional. 5 stars
12/16/05 Eden Soulless and empty, with creepy children 1 stars
12/13/05 Ginger I hated it! They took the book and RUINED it as a movie! It sucked!!! 1 stars
12/08/05 Phil M. Aficionado Stunning visually, but limp emotionally; and what is the point, exactlly? I missed it. 3 stars
12/08/05 someone special it sucked 1 stars
11/29/05 Melissa AWESOME!!! 5 stars
11/26/05 Thomas webb Great chistmas classic - Best in IMAX... 5 stars
11/24/05 Evil Wolfie I usually hate Christmas movies, but this was actually good. Go figure....... 4 stars
9/27/05 rafi not much of an adult movie , but still very nice.. 4 stars
9/22/05 Jonathon Holmes good movie, but not as good as "The Incredibles" 4 stars
7/04/05 mariann This is a must-see in 3D, at the IMAX theatres! Incredible and charming! 5 stars
6/06/05 Helen Bradley Very clever fast script Hanks awesome 5 stars
4/23/05 Quigley the glacier culch sequence is worth $9. could've been more emotional, but still a classic 5 stars
1/30/05 Frank Tells good movie 3 stars
1/29/05 Lisa Clarizio Creepy animation for christmas 2 stars
1/28/05 Jeff Anderson The greatest family holiday movie of ALL TIME! See it right away. A MUST SEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
1/07/05 shane brown held on to my seat train was faster than a roller coaster 5 stars
1/06/05 Scott Smith Awesome! An instant classic on a grand scale. 5 stars
12/29/04 Bill Masengarb Will become a Christmas classic. 5 stars
12/29/04 Natalie Stonecipher Falls pretty flat, even for lovers of train journeys and Santa Claus story. 2&1/2 stars. 3 stars
12/27/04 cindy parry Wonderful! saw it 3 times! 5 stars
12/18/04 Theresa Wagner great retelling of the book, nicely crafted 4 stars
12/13/04 Donna Cole Magical 5 stars
12/12/04 Michael Baldaccini This Movie is great Family fun. My kids love it! 5 stars
12/09/04 James Culp Great !Cartoon greatest effort in 70yr 5 stars
12/08/04 Michael AWESOME. SEE IT AT THE IMAX THEATER IN 3-D 5 stars
12/05/04 Mark D Fulwiler Disappointing 3 stars
12/03/04 Pau-red Didn't have an issue with the eyes, did you actually watch the movie or just the preview? 5 stars
12/02/04 Santa Makes "Gremlins" look like a classic !!! Bring back Gizmo and Stripe !!! 3 stars
12/01/04 Annie Best Christmas movie since Its a Wonderful Life 5 stars
11/28/04 chris. am i the only person who wasn't horrified by half of this movie?? 3 stars
11/26/04 Linda Jow Need to see it in IMAX 3-D, all t classes of 1st grader in our school loved it! 4 stars
11/23/04 alien assassin Great CGI...shame about the story 3 stars
11/23/04 Kristina Williams The eyes are too....damn...CREEPY!! 1 stars
11/21/04 Naka Nope! 1 stars
11/20/04 Melissa in New York WAY TOO EARLY FOR X-MAS! Drag a friend with you, make snide comments through the movie. 2 stars
11/19/04 Phillip Their eyes..............(shudder) 2 stars
11/19/04 Awesome! 5 stars
11/19/04 Atom All positive movie. Great. Nothing like the rest of the movies made today. 5 stars
11/17/04 Joesph Markshaft Its really crap the animation was worse than FF Spirits within 1 stars
11/17/04 Cool Leather Jacket bored out of my mind....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz 1 stars
11/16/04 Dunce a slap in the face to *real* animation. ugly, ugly, ugly! 1 stars
11/16/04 April I would rather be shot (and quartered)than have to see this movie again 1 stars
11/15/04 rhody polished turd! 1 stars
11/14/04 Danny 3D version is revolutionary, a different movie 5 stars
11/14/04 Nadia I didn't like it. Could it be because I don't believe? Oh no! 2 stars
11/12/04 Kelly Amazing! Take a ride and believe and laugh and have a blast! best time in a long time! 5 stars
11/12/04 Scott Carter Rotten and only for kids under 3 1 stars
11/12/04 Drew Cosbie GREAT FAMILY FILM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
11/11/04 ted pakozdi incredible 5 stars
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  10-Nov-2004 (G)
  DVD: 22-Nov-2005



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