The Polar Express (2005)

by | Jan 30, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Polar Express (2005)

Vocal Talent:  Tom Hanks, Leslie Zemeckis, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari, Michael Jeter
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Video:  2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced for 16:9, Color, Animated
Audio:  DD 5.1 (English, Spanish, French)
Extras:  Theatrical Trailer; You Look Familiar (4 min); A Genuine Ticket To Ride (5 parts – 11 min); True Inspirations: An Author’s Adventure (5 min); Josh Groban at the Greek (4 min); Behind the Scenes of “Believe” (4 min); Polar Express Challenge; Meet the Snow Angels (3 min); THQ Game Demo; Additional Song/ Scene (7 min).
Length:  100 minutes
Rating:  ****

The Polar Express is an animated Christmas tale that is based upon a book by Chris Van Allsburg.  And although Christmas is already over, who says you can’t enjoy this movie any time?  It’s a cute film about a young boy awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus and his doubts about Santa’s existence.  He’s collected clippings and magazines that seem to back up his theory that Santa is not for real.  Just when he is about to abandon hope, the Polar Express, a magical locomotive, shows up outside his home ready to take him to the North Pole.  The excitement continues throughout the journey with other children and escapades atop the train and on ice, to the discovery of where the presents are made, and on to the North Pole in all its glory with elves, presents, reindeer, and Christmas cheer.  Behind the enjoyable tale there are plenty of encouraging words of wisdom that speak to the heart of the spirit of Christmas including the importance of giving, being thankful, and friends and family.  

Allsburg began his artistic career with sculpture, but when bad weather meant he had to stay in his apartment, he took up drawing.  His wife suggested he try children’s books and the rest is history.  This film uses a modern-day animation technique called performance capture.  Actors are required to wear a special suit and miniature balls (smaller than peas) on their body to capture the motion.  The movements are then translated into computer graphics.  Even clothes on the actors are modeled, photographed, and then input into the computer.  Screen action is created by the construction of a 3D virtual world that allows for camera placement anywhere within the environment.  By having a human being manipulating rotational controls, the action can mirror that in a live action film.  Many of the extras discuss these various techniques as well as the music and other fascinating aspects of the film.  Viewed from a technical standpoint, the animation is simply amazing—from head movement, facial ticks, folds in clothes, textures of the furniture and surroundings, to the lighting of characters and scenery.  While watching the film I noted the natural appearance of hair on the characters.  There is a special section in the extras on this that is worth a viewing.

Tom Hanks took on the challenge of handling multiple roles: the hero boy, the father, the conductor, the hobo, and even Santa Claus.  This gave him the opportunity to tailor his performance of each and play them against each other to good effect.  The film has a few scary moments that may be too much for very young children, although it avoids the violence and death that seem to be depicted in just about every other animated film these days.  The film successfully balances the necessary elements to retain adult attention while still providing an unforgettably fun experience for a child–all the while imparting the ideas that true spirit of Christmas lies in one’s heart and that there is no greater gifts than friends.  It’s definitely worth a viewing with or without kids.

-Brian Bloom

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