(Note: This was originally written the night before the film opened nationwide in America and was published on SciFiWatch.)
It’s Christmas morning; you’ve been waiting all night to rush downstairs and look under the tree, certain that the best present of all is yours. Sure enough, there it is: a huge, stunning package with your name on it. Eagerly, you grab it up and take in the beauty of it, wanting to delay this delicious feeling of anticipation. The bow is gorgeous and shiny; the wrapping paper is breathtaking, like nothing you have ever seen before. As you peel away the amazing layers to what lies beneath, you see a plain cardboard package. Inside, the box is empty.
That’s “The Polar Express:” an absolutely stunning blend of computer animation and incredible sound design that, once you peel those away, has nothing else to offer. A boy goes on a ride to the North Pole. That’s it.
But -oh, what a ride. The screen is filled with hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny details: flurries of snowflakes, football fields full of elves, all different, all moving. At times, the train ride is like actually being on a roller coaster. There was one moment where we are inside a train car that is sliding sideways and we can look out the windows in the background at the scenery sliding by. I had to turn away because I suddenly felt queasy; that’s how good it is.
The soundtrack is impressive as well, offering brand new Christmas songs that are quite good. I can see one of them, “Spirit of the Season,” becoming a regular Christmas Carol right alongside “The Christmas Song” or other similar traditional tunes.
On the other hand, we have Tom Hanks playing 6 vocal roles, 3 of which (the ones not altered by electronic manipulation) sound exactly like Tom Hanks. An unfortunate detail is that the characters all have dead, lifeless eyes in comparison to the rest of the animation, which is a shame. Weirder yet is that all the children’s voices are each a combination of an adult and a child. Tom Hanks and Daryl Sabara (“Spy Kids 3D”) simultaneously provide the voice for the lead boy. Why was this even necessary?
The bottom line is, “The Polar Express” is all about that wrapping paper, that beautiful bow. On the silver screen, it’s a stunning, breathtaking experience. On a television set…well, it’s going to be just another holiday movie. See it before it leaves the theaters.
Pros: A never-ending fount of creativity, from the camera angles to the choreography to the animation to the music.
Cons: There is absolutely no plot. No story. Hardly any meaningful dialogue. Which is why you shouldn’t wait for the home release to see it.
Review Rating: 4 out of 5 unique experiences in a theater; but will rate a 2.5 out of 5 at home.
The Polar Express (2004)
Also known as: The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience (USA) (IMAX version)
99 Minutes; USA
Tom Hanks (Hero Boy/Father/Conductor/Hobo/Scrooge/Santa Claus)
Leslie Harter Zemeckis (Sister Sarah/Mother (as Leslie Zemeckis)
Eddie Deezen (Know-It-All)
Nona M. Gaye (Hero Girl (as Nona Gaye)
Peter Scolari (Lonely Boy)
Brendan King (Pastry Chef)
Directed by: Robert Zemekis
Viewing Format: Theatrical Release