All Aboard The Polar Express, Next Stop Christmas
Christmas is a magical time no matter what age you are and for me Christmas movies are part of what makes Christmas special. Robert Zemeckis' "The Polar Express" is most definitely a Christmas movie which revels in everything which is special about Christmas with its story of children being whisked off on a magical train ride to the North Pole to meet Santa. It delivers that whole Christmas spirit with a fantasy adventure aspect yet at the same time "The Polar Express" delivers the warmth and nostalgia which makes it as much fun for adults as for children.
It's Christmas Eve and a young boy is doubting whether Santa Claus really exists, but as he lay in bed half dropping off to sleep he hopes he can hear the sleigh bells. But to his surprise it's not sleigh bells he hears but the noise of a steam train magically pulling up outside his window. Invited on by the train's conductor (Tom Hanks - The Terminal) the young boy finds himself in the company of other young children heading on a Christmas adventure of a lifetime as they travel by the Polar Express to the North Pole to meet Santa.
One of the most impressive things about the "The Polar Express" is not the motion capture and CGI but it is a movie which works on different levels appealing to young and old alike. For children there is the imaginative adventure side as we follow this group of children who find themselves on an adventure of a life time on a magical train ride heading for the North Pole and Santa's factory. It delivers excitement and semi danger as there are a few perils as it takes an almost roller coaster ride aspect and then once it reaches the destination the magical adventure continues as we witness the wonderment of Santa and all his little helpers. All of which is wrapped up with a little comedy rather than stupid gags and cleverly crafted scenes and characters such as the waiters on the train dishing out hot chocolate in a memorable musical number.
And what is surprising is that as we follow this small group of children all of which are nameless but consist of 3 boys and a girl it feels like it is paying homage to the "Wizard of Oz" as each has something missing in their lives, be it humility, friends, belief or the courage to lead. It is cleverly done; never feeling like it's ripping off the "Wizard of Oz" but sharing some ideas and themes.
But then "The Polar Express" also works on a second level delivering the nostalgia of childhood Christmases for adults who find themselves watching. Maybe the nostalgia is a little rose tinted, more of the Christmas you wished you had than had, but it radiates warmth and that feel good factor as well as the innocence when the excitement of Christmas Day and the magic of Santa visiting was so important. And if the nostalgia side doesn't win you over the soundtrack most certainly will as it is filled with wonderful tunes which are a part of any Christmas.
Of course there is another significant aspect to "The Polar Express" and that is it's a CGI movie, the first of which to use motion capture to create the entire movie. Now I'm not one for motion capture but when it's used in such a wonderful movie with a great storyline it works. What we get is something pitched between being a cartoon and real life, so we have characters with human characteristics but also have that animated feel about them. But the impressive thing is the attention to detail, from hair flicking in the wind, puffs of snow flying through the air, the reflection in a shiny toy and so on just make it a stunning creation. And it's such a well made movie with such a good storyline that you end up forgetting that you are watching CGI, if only other movies which use the same technique could do the same thing then maybe I wouldn't dislike motion capture so much.
With it being CGI and motion capture it feels wrong to make a point about the acting, but then these CGI versions of real beings are quite brilliant. Take the train Conductor, one of just many characters which Tom Hanks voices; it has all the mannerism and looks of Hanks making it entertaining to watch. And the Conductor is not the only one as all the children are both wonderful creations but also brilliantly voiced.
What this all boils down to is that "The Polar Express" truly is a magnificent Christmas movie. It works on different levels taking younger audiences on a wonderful Christmas adventure whilst delivering nostalgia and the wonderment of youth for older audiences. But most importantly it tells a charming, heart warming story which really delivers everything which is magical about Christmas.