It’s the first day of Christmas, and the spirit of the season is still kept alive in the animated movie The Polar Express.
The Polar Express
(USA 2004, director: Robert Zemeckis)
A young boy who has lost hope in the magic of Christmas is taken on a nightly train ride to the North Pole together with other children on Christmas Eve.
Christmas movies are usually sentimental affairs, which can work if one is in the mood for them or they don’t and one prays that they’re soon over. The Polar Express is one such movie that can be a lot to swallow with all sorts of know-it-all phrases uttered by the train conductor or Santa both voiced by Tom Hanks. The young boy isn’t the most likable character, but he’s obviously used for prototypical non-believer who has to be converted, with other characters like a girl who wants to help everyone and a boy who usually wants to keep to himself also being perfect stereotypes used in children’s books to teach the young ones how brave one can be and that friends are easily won, even on just one train ride. It’s all extremely one-dimensional and as one doesn’t learn much more about the characters, it’s difficult to feel much for them, especially with Zemeckis’ CGI technique making their faces look surreal and even a bit scary. Speaking of scary, seeing unwanted toys in a dark part of the train or meeting a trainspotter ghost on top of it still that it’s not all bright happiness and jolly goodness all around.
However, despite the narrative problems and the whole moral teaching aspect, taking this journey is worth it just for the special effects and wonderful Christmas scenery alone. Going through all the snow at high speed with some spectacular if rather over-the-top action sequences that involve derailing and skiing on top of the train keeps the adrenaline pumping. Finally arriving at the North Pole is also a sight to behold, evoking the fairytale-like feeling one usually associates with the season, including a grand procession of elves to welcome the man bearded man with the bag in an unequivocal religious praying fashion, although the latter is obviously a bit problematic. There might be too many rollercoaster-like scenes and the singing is so sweet and exaggerated that it hurts, but The Polar Express still remains a guilty pleasure due to a fantastic soundtrack, the aforementioned snowy landscapes and everything one imagined the North Pole would be like as a child, complete with a train journey when hot chocolate is served for everyone in their pyjamas. The idea of hearing a bell ring that represents the belief in Christmas whereas it remains silent for others who don’t believe anymore is also a bittersweet reminder that maybe it’s not too bad to indulge in these types of movies and be a child again.
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