An honest appraisal of "The Polar Express"
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Let me begin this review by saying I am not a fan of either seasonal literature or seasonal films. I find them entertaining, but only one piece of literature or film relating to the Christmas Holidays has ever held my attention, and the same author wrote both.
The book is "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens. I have the version that is illustrated by the Brothers Hildebrandt, who uses family members and friends in period costume to represent Dickens' wonderful characters. It is leather bound, finely presented, and well worth the price of a new copy. The film adaptation is "Scrooge", released in 1951, and starring Alastair Sim in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. I have seen many other versions, with George C. Scott doing an excellent job as Scrooge, but I don't believe any of the other performers to represent the old miser come close to Mr. Sim's magnificent performance. It is a joy to behold. That is why I was pleasantly surprised at the film I am about to review, which I discovered at Blockbuster.
The movie is "The Polar Express." I had purchased the book, written by Chris van Allsberg and first published in 1985, for my nieces and nephews. I read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a book for the children as well as the child in all of us. I had no clue that it had been made into a movie. When my eye spotted the title, and the star was Tom Hanks, I had to watch the movie. Unless you have been living under a log for the past fifteen years or so, you must know about the wonderful creative talents of Mr. Hanks. I rented the movie, drove home, and popped it into my DVD player.
The plot is very simple. A young boy begins to doubt the existence of Santa Claus and the entire Christmas legend. He goes to sleep on Christmas Eve, and is awakened by a rather large and noisy passenger train pulled by a steam locomotive. The conductor is Tom Hanks, who performs in five roles in the movie. The train, of course, is "The Polar Express," and is bound for the North Pole. The train is populated by children, some who a questioning the existence of Santa Claus, some who truly believe, and some who need some serious parenting.
The train leaves the young man's front porch, picks up another boy who is a bit hesitant about boarding and sets out for the North Pole. As the journey progresses, the main characters encounter quite a few adventures and the train repeatedly defies the laws of physics before arriving at the North Pole. Once there, the children encounter elves and finally meet up with "The Big Guy," who is, of course, Santa.
The film is completely animated. The animation is quite good, with about ninety-five percent of the human movements looking very realistic. The musical numbers, which are simple, are well executed. As the children head to the North Pole, there is an absolutely hilarious musical number as they are served hot chocolate. Here are the lyrics:
Ooh, we got it!
Hey, we got it!
Say, we got it!
Oh, we got it!
So, we got it!
Yo, we got it!
Here, we've only got one rule:
Never ever let it cool!
Keep it cookin in the pot,
You get the idea. It is all quite good fun, and the animations are well worth watching, especially Tom Hanks' character dancing on the coach.
Now, to the matter of Mr. Hanks and his performance. He plays five roles in the move. Two are quite minor, when we hear his voice as the narrator and as the young boy's father. He does a superb job as the conductor, is marvelous as "The Big Guy," otherwise known as Santa Claus, and is very, very good as the hobo riding the train. However, one would be disappointed in a less than stellar performance from Mr. Hanks.
I really don't know how much creative input Tom Hanks or Chris van Allsberg had when making the film. I suspect a great deal, as they are co-producers. In my humble opinion, the makers of this movie have done a marvelous job, not only with acting and animation, but with the absolutely fantastic sets that are, no doubt, computer generated.
At age fifty-six, I honestly believed that I had passed the point in life where a young person's film could make me laugh. I was wrong. This film makes me laugh. I am going to add to my collection, and put it on the shelf right next to "Scrooge."
The movie is well worth watching. Rent it or buy it and enjoy it!