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Vivid 'Polar Express' arrives early but fails to deliver

Nov. 16, 2004

By BLAKE MICHELSON, contributor

Based off Chris Van Allsburg's Caldecott Medal winning 1985 book, The Polar Express opened in theaters this past weekend.

Although most audiences were aware this story was originally a book, it's important to point out, seeing as how some people didn't know The Lord of the Rings was a book.

Allsburg is responsible for writing and illustrating the book Jumanji (also made into a motion picture in 1996). The movie is directed by Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away and Forest Gump) and stars Tom Hanks (Cast Away and Forest Gump) as the voice for five major characters in the story. Is someone playing favorites here?

The Polar Express tells of the journey of a boy (Hanks) who is picked up on Christmas Eve by a mysterious train called The Polar Express which is destined for the North Pole. The boy meets the quirky conductor (Hanks) of the train and a few other children along the way to the North Pole. He gets there and receives the first gift of Christmas from Santa (Hanks).

I have been a huge fan of the book The Polar Express for quite some time. The illustrations are beautiful, the story is somber and sweet, and it's a timeless and unforgettable story. Having read the book before seeing the movie I instantly remembered every picture and story on every page. Naturally, I was very curious to see the movie and how it would look on the big screen.

Now, I wish I had settled for curiosity and love of a good book, instead of loving a good book and despising a movie based off it. The movie was released far too early to kick off the holiday season. I wasn't ready for a Christmas movie, seeing how it isn't even Thanksgiving yet. As far as staying true to the book, the movie doesn't quite accomplish this. It does coincide with the story, however, when it comes to the heart-felt somber story that can be found in the book the movie falls short. The movie was way too action packed and consisted of unnecessary tension. One of the writers must have figured out that a train is similar to a roller coaster and thought it would be cute if they took the viewer on a virtual roller coaster ride. I suppose that children would like the movie because it is action-packed, and you do get to see the North Pole, Santa and elves (child look-alikes with facial hair).

And although the characters in the movie learned great lessons, the movie failed to convey these lessons to the audience.

The Polar Express did have some redeeming value -- its animation was stunningly beautiful and stayed very true to the look of Allsburg's illustrations in his book. The reality of the children's appearance was thoroughly impressive and Hanks' Conductor character tailored perfectly to his personal look and personality.

If you are looking to go see a great holiday movie that will gear you up for the season or to take children to, this is not the one -- try seeing The Incredibles several times. But, if you are looking for a visual movie that is aesthetically pleasing, then by all means, go see this film.