The Polar Express (2004)


Director: Robert Zemeckis. Warner/Universal CGI/Castle Rock et al (U)


Producer: Gary Goetzman, Steve Starkey, William Teitler, Robert Zemeckis. Writers: Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles Jr. Camera: Don Burgess, Robert Presley. Music: Alan Silvestri. Sets: Rick Carter, Doug Chiang.

Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Eddie Deezen, Peter Scolari.


A little boy, doubting that Santa Claus is real, is woken one Christmas night by a magical train that trundles down his street. Along with other children who also question Saint Nicholas’ existence, he boards the train and is whisked away on an amazing night-time journey to the North Pole where his doubts are washed away.


Director/co-producer/co-writer Zemeckis’ contribution to mainstream movie culture cannot be underestimated – he is the man behind blockbusters such as the Back to the Future series, Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump and Contact. All of these films are vastly different of course, but they are bound by a creeping sense of schmaltz and whimsy, wrapped up in increasingly beguiling special effects.

Polar Express duly falls in line then, featuring some of the most astonishing ‘motion capture’ animation techniques (‘motion capture’ being that which captures a live actor’s movements and performance in animation); the ‘animated’ conductor (Hanks) looks like an an eerily lifelike, computer generated version of the star himself.

There are some ovation-inducing moments, not least the train’s rollercoaster, physics-defying journey across frozen lakes and up snow-capped montains and the waiters serving hot chocolate as if auditioning for Cirque de Soleil.

It’s a simple and saccharine product (based on the book of the same name by Chris van Allsberg) – imagine a festive Coca-Cola advert elephantised to full-length. But the homespun messages about never losing faith or belief in something, no matter where you come from, are never cloyingly or embarrasingly told. The result is a cosy, comfortable film to wallow in. Imagine, just for a second, you are eight years old again and this happens to you – I challenge you not to be at least charmed.



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