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Nov. 17, 2004

A saccharine "Polar Express"

by Grace Harter, Page Editor
Adults struggle with doubt at different times in their lives. Children, too, must slowly accept doubt and skepticism in their lives as they grow older, sometimes having to leave behind many of the dreams and fantasies they had when they were younger. Though loss of innocence is a step towards adulthood, it only seems fair that there should still be some room for a belief in magic. The new Christmas movie, "The Polar Express," weaves that very magic into the screen by examining the loss and regain of faith in a young boy's life.

"The Polar Express," based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, is the story of a boy who no longer believes in Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve, a huge express train suddenly pulls up outside his house, and the conductor invites the boy along, telling him that the train is headed for the North Pole to see Santa Claus. After some hesitation, the boy climbs aboard, and his adventures unfold from there.

On his journey, he meets a cast of colorful characters, like the strong-willed and tough Hero Girl (Nona Gaye), the obnoxious and overconfident Know-it-All (Eddie Deezen) and the poor, sad Lonely Boy (Peter Scolari). Each of these characters is headed for the North Pole in the hopes of learning to believe in the spirit of Christmas once more. The boy, only billed as Hero Boy (Daryl Sabara), learns valuable life lessons from his new friends, like the importance of leadership, empathy and caring. Most importantly, he learns to believe in the seemingly unbelievable.

The graphics in the movie are absolutely amazing. The film employs a new technique called "performance capture," in which real people act out various scenes wearing computer chips on their bodies to capture every movement. The result is incredible animation unlike any seen before; sometimes, it seems like live actors are onscreen instead of computer-generated images. Every hair on the characters' heads has definition, and every facial expression is so lifelike that it's almost creepy. Indeed, traces of Tom Hanks (who plays six characters in the movie) can be found in every one of his characters because the technology is so accurate.

The format of the film is truly perfect for the storyline; the scenes are very lifelike, yet a bit fanciful, like the story itself. There is one beautiful scene in the film where a lost train ticket is caught in the night breeze and takes a journey into the woods. It travels from a pack of wolves to a bird's nest, drifting through the night air and sliding over the perfect snow. Thanks to graphics, something as simple as a ticket fluttering in the wind seems stunning and magical while looking realistic at the same time.

Despite the visual splendor of the film, it feels like something is missing. Sure, there are elves, reindeer and even Santa Claus himself, but the joy and magic that the original book so perfectly captured gets wearisome after awhile. That probably is due to the fact that though the movie is barely feature length, it feels like the plot has been expanded as far as possible to fill an acceptable time frame. Van Allsburg's original story, which was only 30 pages long, has been stretched thin by Director Robert Zemeckis. New characters, like a mysterious hobo who offers advice to the protagonist, seem a little unnecessary and tiresome to say the least. The hobo's importance doesn't register in the film, and the lessons he imparts are just reiterated later in the movie.

Overlooking the hobo, who adds a hint of darkness to the generally light tone of the movie, the other characters are enjoyable and realistic. Hero Boy struggles to do what's right during his journey to the North Pole, and through his travels with Hero Girl, Lonely Boy and Know-it-All, he learns the great value of empathy in a leader.

'The Polar Express' makes for an adorable, if not sugary, holiday film, appropriate for the entire family. Van Allsburg's tale truly comes to life in this undoubtedly splendid piece of animation. If you don't see the film for the uplifting and spirited messages it gives viewers, at least watch for the amazing technology it boasts and the beautiful wintry scenes that will make you pine for the winter holidays.

"The Polar Express" (93 minutes) is rated G.

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  • LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!! on November 18, 2004
    I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!! I've seen it last saturday and the graphics was sooooo pretty and Tom Hanks who played the conductore of the Polar Express was extremly funny. I recomend this movie to everyone. It truly has the true meaning to christmas.
  • George Orwell on November 21, 2004
    What is it with SCO, "Polar Express" reviews, and presumptuous vocabulary?
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