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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: 100 Minutes
• Never-before-seen Smokey and Steamer song
• You Look Familiar: The Many "Polar Faces" of Tom Hanks
• True Inspirations: An Author’s Adventure: Profiling Chris Van Allsburg
• Josh Groban Oscar performance
• Behind the scenes of "Believe"
• Polar Express challenge
• Meet the Snow Angels: the moviemakers’ Christmas memories
• PC Game
Note: The disk Warner Brother’s sent hated my computer, for whatever reason. The power of capturing screen shots was stripped from me (much like my dignity on so many drunken occasions).
I missed The Polar Express when it hit theaters last year (Devin saw it though – and you can read about it here). After watching the previews for it, I was overcome with one feeling – it looks too fricken weird. The animation style freaked my shit out – and that was just in watching a commercial. I get the same feeling whenever I see Dakota Fanning leering out of TV. It’s a Village of the Damned feeling.
As such, I avoided the movie. I felt compelled to watch it on DVD, however. The best way to overcome your fears is to face them head on. After all, I can watch a Dakota Fanning movie now without her freaking me out too much. Perhaps a digital Tom Hanks wouldn’t frighten me as much as I thought it would.
The Polar Express is a Christmas movie about a train (guess the train’s name) that is en route to the North Pole. It kidnaps kids that are on the fence between believing and not believing in “The Big Man.” The train then takes them on a CGI journey to see Santa.
The first act is the set up and focuses on the non-believing of Santa. Act two plays out like Warner Brothers wanted to use this movie to launch a roller coaster ride somewhere. The final act is the power of Santa and believing in him.
I bring up the act structure because every one of them bothered me, but for entirely different reasons. Ultimately it seems that Robert Zemeckis wanted the film to live and die on the animation. After watching it, I assume that more time, effort and money were spent on the animation than script and plotting. Hell, I just gave the entire plot in three sentences above. I didn’t even paraphrase that much. Story-wise this movie is pretty weak.
The question the story brings up is: Is Santa real? I’m not the kind of guy that says “I’ll never tell my children about Santa because I don’t want to lie to them.” Santa was an important part of my childhood (as I assume many others) and I don’t want to deny that to my future offspring. However, as presented in this movie, the unnamed kid’s parents (his father being the second Tom Hanks incarnation we visit, the kid is also voiced by Hanks) blatantly lie to him on Christmas Eve regarding Santa.
The kid is getting up in years and is wrestling with the belief in Santa. If he doubts this much, there is no way he’ll believe next time Santa makes annual pilgrimage. So, what do his parents do? Do they take him aside and tell him the idea of Santa is what’s important? No. Do they tell him the Spirit of Christmas is the real concept and Santa is nothing but a manifestation of that? No. They look right in his eyes and say “Of course there’s a Santa.”
I’m all for letting a child believe in the magic as long as possible, but at what point should it stop? Maybe I’m being overly sensitive. It just seemed really shady of his parents in how they handle it.
Once he is picked up by the creepy conductor (Tom Hanks III) in a scene that reminded me of that Amazing Stories episode Spielberg directed. Here the movie switches over to “theme park” mode. I’m sure this section had more impact if you watched it on IMAX 3D.
The train acts like a roller coaster and then takes a trip across ice. If that isn’t enough peril, the kid goes searching for a girl he assumes is getting kicked off the train (he has the girl’s ticket). This search takes him to the top of the train (where he meets Tom Hanks IV) and under it as well.
Finally the train gets to the North Pole (sorry for the spoiler). There we meet Tom Hanks V as our kid learns that there is a Santa and you should always believe. Beware – 100 candy canes aren’t this sugary sweet.
It is the force-feeding of Santa that gets to me. I know it is a Christmas movie. I know it is a kid’s movie. Perhaps if it was set up better with a solid story I would react differently. I don’t have the same hang-ups with Miracle on 34th Street.
Again, I’m one for believing. Eventually, kids understand that there’s a difference between believing in a physical manifestation of Santa and believing that a fat man travels the world in 80th the time of Phineas Fogg, while making stops at every single dwelling along the way. So, at what point do you have to give up the illusion to them? The message of the movie seems to be “LIE!” as much as it is “Believe.”
If you can’t tell, I’m not a father. Someday, we’ll see. This is something I’ll have to face and I wonder if I’ll lie outright to keep the magic alive, or let the kid in on the secret and begin the magic of the true meaning of Christmas (and all that crap).
Throwing out those hang-ups about the movie, however, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Although that isn’t saying much. I enjoyed some specific scenes but there wasn’t enough to string it together. There is barely enough story in it to keep a five year old entranced (my five year old nephew who enjoyed it, but was restless). However, if I told you it was really good, I’d be lying to you.
4.75 out of 10
The animation style didn’t freak me out as much as I thought it would. Maybe I’m resistant to change and that’s why I thought the animation would bother me. All-in-all, however, it looks beautiful. The photo-realistic animation style gives the characters a human touch rather than an artful one.
The transfer to DVD is spotless too. Warner obviously cared a lot about getting this film to look as good as possible and they succeeded, artistically and technically.
9 out of 10
The sound on the disk blew me away. I really wasn’t expecting too much from it and it kicked. Form the minor sound effects (like the noises the train makes) to the background music (which I really enjoyed while watching the movie) – the noise is dead on every time.
10 out of 10
The disk seems to be PACKED with goodies – but I didn’t watch any of them. The bonus disk was sent to me damaged making bonus reviewing impossible.
TBD out of 10
That is one big-ass train. Also, shouldn’t Tom Hanks’ name be listed 5 times?
5 out of 10