The Polar Express crashes extravagantly

Nov. 16, 2004, midnight | By Erica Hartmann | 19 years, 3 months ago

Christmas flick is a flop

The boy's eyes are a brilliant green, the color of key lime flecked with emerald. Ambient light reflects perfectly against their moist covering. When he blinks, his eyelashes wave just slightly. But his eyes are not real; he is entirely computer-generated.

The lifelike quality of The Polar Express is magical, but that is its only merit. The child's Christmas story is filled with trite maxims, materialistic morals and overly motile sequences.

The premise, the young hero boy (voiced by Tom Hanks) has begun to doubt in Santa and takes an outrageous journey on an express train that appears out of nowhere to visit the fabled North Pole, has the potential to be heart-warming, enchanting and wholesome. Instead, this film is gut-churning, infuriating and morally degrading.

The first sign that something is horribly wrong is the musical number in which tapdancing waiters serve piping-hot cocoa. It's vaguely reminiscent of "Be Our Guest" in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. But, whereas the magnificent dancing cutlery is delightful, these gravity-defying waiters are just odd.

After that, even the slightest event becomes an excuse to go on a crazy, dizzying adventure, such as the train running down a 179-degree slope that turns into a roller coaster track. For sure, it looks awesome, but after a while, it gets tiring, and ultimately, it has nothing to do with the plot.

Also out of place are several Star Wars allusions that may have been unintentional. In one scene, the hero boy, his female companion (Nona Gaye, a chick chock full of spunk) and the lonely boy (Peter Scolari, a child who shows signs of neglect and possible abuse) are running through an industrialized gift-wrapping facility that looks distinctly like the Death Star. Santa, another of five characters voiced by Tom Hanks, wields a riding whip that glows like a series of light sabres stuck together. The assembled elves give the impression of the clone army.

The comic relief consists of a pair of dopey, contrived engineers (both voiced by Michael Jeters). One is a heavy-set dolt, and the other is a wiry, inarticulate fellow who yodels like a caribou when his extremely long hair is pulled. The caribou, by the way, are incredibly well animated. There is also a know-it-all boy (Eddie Deezen), who could be funny if he weren't such an annoying dweeb, and a delusional hobo (also Tom Hanks), who is really just unsettling.

But the real fault with The Polar Express is its message. The take-home value is not that Christmas is a time of love, generosity and faith but that Christmas presents can solve all problems. In the same breath, Santa proclaims that "there is no greater gift than friendship," and commences in doling out immense presents that jingle when shaken.

Overall, The Polar Express is a hackneyed excuse for a holiday flick with phenomenal animation. Too bad the highly anticipated graphics are so poorly partnered with superficiality and a lack of originality.

The Polar Express (100 minutes) is rated G and plays everywhere.

Tags: print

Erica Hartmann. Erica is a budding techie involved in all things sprucification. More »

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