The Polar Express Is a Great Movie
It’s a strange feeling knowing you love something that many people dislike immensely. It’s one thing if a film is polarizing, such as the case with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s another situation entirely when the movie you love is condemned by the majority of people who have seen it. The Polar Express is a movie little appreciated, and I would argue little understood, by the masses but nonetheless has captured my imagination and fascination since I was young. Even into adulthood I am in awe of a movie so strange and unlike anything I have ever seen.
The film is based on the 1985 book of the same name by author Chris Van Allsburg. The movie follows the journey of an unnamed boy on Christmas Eve who has become quite a skeptic when it comes to the topic of Santa Claus. You can see that the boy wants to believe, but is unable to accept that Santa exists based on all the evidence he has seen in his own experiences. In natural fairytale fashion, the boy is startled awake that evening by a rumbling that fills his whole room. He goes outside to investigate and finds that a train is waiting outside his neighborhood (despite the fact that there are no real tracks located there). The trains conductor comes out to greet the boy and simply asks “Well? Ya coming?” At the peak of his disbelief, a train literally comes to his front door to take him to the North Pole, where he can finally see Santa and prove once and for all that magic really does exist.
There is something really lovely about a movie that isn’t afraid to take its audience on a ride with little to no explanation on the rules and logic this wild world lives by. It’s tempting to try and understand why and how this is all happening, but that’s not the point. The movie is trying to convey to the audience that it’s not about what you see and how things work, it’s about choosing to believe in the magic of the world. The power that choice to believe has is where the magic of childlike wonder comes from and is something people seem to forget when they grow into adulthood.
These themes of childhood innocence, the magic of believing instead of seeing, and learning to let go of logic are beautiful lessons to be learned from a truly wonderful film. These themes seem to be largely ignored or under appreciated by audiences do to the generally agreed upon low quality animation/motion capture technology utilized in the film. Sure some of the characters move a little funny and their eyes look dead and are anything but human. However, this doesn’t seem to bother me as the themes and message behind the animation transcend any technical aspect of the movie that would have bothered me otherwise. Even if you can’t get past the odd way the characters move and feel, the world this movie is presenting is utterly breathtaking. And with the terrific direction of Robert Zemeckis and a delightful score by Alan Silvestri, the combination immerses you into a world you want to visit again and again.
Behind many of these animated faces is the voice and face of Tom Hanks. Hanks is portraying many of the characters in the film, including: the unnamed boy, the conductor, a ghost hobo, Santa Claus himself, and more. Hanks is obviously a terrific actor with many celebrated movies filled with excellent performances. However, The Polar Express contains some real gems from Hanks that go largely under appreciated by fans of his acting. Many of the films best moments are propelled by Hanks’s incredible ability to engage the audience with his varied and erratic energy. We even get a rare glimpse at a Tom Hanks singing scene, as he serenades us about how great hot chocolate is (as long as you never ever let it cool that is).
I sometimes wonder if my love for this movie is driven solely by the fact that I loved it as a kid. Maybe I’m still defending it into my adulthood because of some sense of protecting that part of my childhood and my love for that period of time in my life. Perhaps that’s true, but I think there is something more to this movie then nostalgia and bias. Movies that I loved as a kid haven’t always stuck with me into adulthood and even as my taste in film has changed, the feeling this movie invokes in me is still magical. Perchance someday that feeling will drift off and I’ll be unable to feel it again. But for now, I choose to believe in the magic of this movie and I chose to believe I will end up loving it for the rest of my life.