Movie Review: ‘The Polar Express’

By Mary Thacker
November 19, 2004

Ever since it’s publication in 1985, “The Polar Express” has been a part of Whitfield Elementary School’s 4th grade winter holiday celebration. Every year, a new batch of children surrounds the feet of their teacher and is transported to a world separate from their own.

It is the illustrations more than the words that move them to a place that only their imaginations could have produced before. Perhaps, one could say that Chris Van Allsburg, the author and illustrator of “The Polar Express,” has the insight of a child and that is why he can connect with them.

Allsburg’s works have been called wonderful and strange. It only makes sense that such a vivid and surreal tale could only be recaptured on screen with the presence of Tom Hanks.

Allsburg’s books are classics in script as well as in film. Preserving the book’s authenticity is the key to its success when bringing them to screen. Every little detail of the book was incorporated into film; from the main character’s outfit, house, and room, to the fact that his name was never mentioned.

Although scenes had to be added, seeing as a 20-some-page book could not possibly have enough content to fill the time slot of a full-length film, they were relevant to the story. The new scenes took nothing away from the original piece of literature.

There have been several animated features in theaters in the past few years. Since they were all comedies, it was refreshing to see such a beautiful tool like computer graphic imagery (CGI) used for a purely artistic project.

The detail put into the facial expressions and wildlife was spectacular. I guessed that probably was one of the most challenging things any filmmaker could do was recreate Tom Hanks as an animated character. Not only because he’s a real person, whereas the rest were fictional, but also because he is so undoubtedly recognizable. He has been in so many movies and his every aura is so mesmerizing, that getting any part of his qualities incorrect would almost scream blasphemy.

Aside from being visually amazing to watch, the storyline is unlike the standard Christmas tale. It sends the same holiday message and makes for a perfect edition to the Christmas video family. The movie can be described as touching, captivating, and not at all corny.

Watching the film will spark a curiosity for Allsburg’s other works which can be found on his website, www.chrisvanallsburg.com. There, you can explore his sculptures, books, and his community-focused posters for charity events. His biography is fascinating and supplemented by articles, interviews, and timelines.

College isn’t too late to discover the child within you. It was about time for a new Christmas classic. Tim Allen keeps on trying to make them and it just hasn’t been working out for him.

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Mary Thacker

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