Friday, December 26, 2014

The Polar Express (2004)

IMDb plot summary: On Christmas Eve, a doubting boy boards a magical train that's headed to the North Pole and Santa Claus' home.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Tom Hanks, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, and Peter Scolari.

(Some mild spoilers about characters.)

This movie is very in-the-middle for me, so let's start with the good things. The animation is gorgeous. Yes, the people get a little uncanny-valley-esque, but as the story goes on I stopped noticing it quite so much, and the animation of the train and the snow is so, so lovely. As a result, this movie does best in highly visual moments: the skiing scene on the roof of the train, the ticket's wordless journey across the snowy landscape, and the train plunging down an incredibly steep track and across a frozen lake with no tracks. These are some really great moments.

Where the film fails is in its story. Turning a short book into a 90-minute movie understandably requires some padding, and I don't know what was taken directly from the book and what was created for the movie, but a lot of scenes feel meandering and aimless, especially once the children reach the North Pole.

The main child (credited on IMDb as Hero Boy) is also far from interesting as a lead. His doubting of Santa is a story that's been told many, many times, and nothing is added to his character to make him stand out among those many other stories. All three other children whose personalities are seen were more interesting, but the one *I* wanted to be following was Billy, the withdrawn, melancholy child who sadly tells his fellow train riders at the beginning that "Christmas just doesn't work out for me." The story is deliberately vague about the cause of his unhappiness, and perhaps that was for the best -- this kind of movie shouldn't be weighed down with depressing details of an unhappy home life or celebrating the holidays in poverty or whatever else might have been the burden on Billy's shoulders. However, he was the one I rooted for. He was the one I hoped would be Santa's pick for "first gift of Christmas." He was the one I wanted to see a full movie about.

The movie really is beautiful, and as an atmospheric fantasy, it does its job. But an aimless, unoriginal story and a bland main character keep it from being the magical tale it could have been.

2.5 stars.

Flickchart: #1147 out of 2285, below The Day After Tomorrow and above Bobby.

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