The Polar Express
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Robert Zemeckis
scr Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles Jr
with Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari, Michael Jeter, Steven Tyler, Charles Fleischer, Leslie Zemeckis, Eddie Deezen, Brendan King, Andy Pellick, Chris Coppola
release US 10.Nov.04, UK 3.Dec.04
04/US 1h40

Sleighbells ring, are you listening? Meeting the Big Guy

hanks gaye scolari
The Polar Express Support Shadows: Buy a Poster
Robert Zemeckis breaks cinematic ground once again with this children's Christmas movie, featuring a strong story and astonishing animation, as well as superb acting that plays out through "performance capture" on screen. His only misstep is to over-egg it with unsubtle moralising and Alan Silvestri's soppy music.

Our hero is a young boy (voiced by Sabara) who's at that age when he starts to suspect Santa isn't real. Then late on Christmas Eve a magical locomotive comes to take him to the North Pole. The conductor (Hanks) is cheeky and mysterious, and the boy befriends two other children (Gaye and Scolari) while having various exciting escapades on board. Eventually they all reach their destination, where further adventures and of course Important Life Lessons await.

The visual design is drop-dead gorgeous, creating an entire movie from the illustrations in Chris Van Allsburg's book. Zemeckis also drops references to his other films--Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future, Forrest Gump. It's full of jaw-dropping details, especially in the way the technique captures every tiny facial movement, recreating the actor's performance. Some scenes are a bit odd as a result (you can tell Hanks is the basis for six characters including, of course, the boy's dad), but the overall effect is remarkable. It captures our imagination, blending meticulous reality with the fact that anything can happen in animation.

The story itself is a bit obvious--a coming-of-age tale in which the big message is that we need to retain our childlike wonder. But as it progresses through the set pieces, the film is frequently exciting, a little scary (even though we know nothing bad will happen) and rather sweet at times. Actually, it's mostly over-sweet--the only characters with any edge to them are the elves. There are so many heartwarming moments that more cynical audience members may feel their lunches start to rumble in their stomachs, especially when the overused musical score starts soaring again. But sickly songs and lesson-learning aside, a lovely sense of adventure and creativity keeps us gripped, while Zemeckis' wonderful visual boundary-shattering continually wows us with the possibilities of cinema.

cert U some suspense 14.Nov.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Polar Express Donna Carter, Wisconsin: "It was a sweet movie. One I would enjoy watching with my children at Christmas time like a tradition (maybe I'll make it one). Any complaints about it would make me appear rather surly and critical. Sure, one of the songs that the kids sing is sugary-sweet, but then ... so is the movie - and that's fitting for the season!" (4.Dec.04)
2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall