Cast: Tom Hanks, Leslie Harter Zemeckis, Eddie Deezen, Nona M. Gaye, Peter Scolari, Steven Tyler
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Robert Zemeckis (Author: Chris Van Allsberg)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Journey Beyond Your Imagination
A young boy lies awake in his room one snowy Christmas Eve, excited and alert. Breathing silently. Hardly moving. Waiting.
He's listening for a sound he's afraid that he might never hear - the ringing bells of Santa's sleigh.
The time is five minutes to midnight.
Suddenly, the boy is startled by a thunderous roar. Clearing the mist from his window, he sees the most amazing sight - a gleaming black train rumbles to a stop right in front of his house, the steam from its powerful engine hissing through the night sky and the softly falling snowflakes.
The boy rushes, outside, clad only in his pyjamas and slippers, and is met by the train's conductor who seems to be waiting just for him. "Well, are you coming?" the conductor asks.
"Why, to the North Pole, of course. This is the Polar Express!"
'The Polar Express' is based on the 1995 children's book by author and artist Chris Van Allsberg, which earned him the 1986 Caldecott Medal for the oil pastel drawings that illustrate it. It tells the story of a nameless boy who has reached that borderline level of not knowing whether to believe in Father Christmas or not. He wants to believe but is at a point where he needs some tangible proof that Father Christmas still exists. 'The Polar Express' tells his story about his journey on Christmas Eve to the North Pole and the characters he encounters along the way.
'The Polar Express' is the first feature film to be shot entirely in Performance Capture. This is a combination of real actors and their actions being recorded on computer, which is then translated into animated footage. The actors wear skintight capture suits, which resemble divers wet suits, onto which are sewn markers made of light reflective material, which enables the digital cameras to record movement of the body, which is then translated into a fluid and natural action in the virtual world.
At first, the animation is hard to accept as it often looks so real and so it is like your brain is playing tricks on you as you try to come to grips with the fact that what you are seeing on the screen isn't the real actors. Tom Hanks plays 5 characters (Hero Boy, Boy's Father, The Conductor, The Hobo & Santa) and it was fun to play spot the Hanks role. The Conductor of the Polar Express also actually looks like Hanks and includes a rather cheeky moment when the conductor lifts his cap to reveal that he is bald.
'The Polar Express' is a very moving tale and even if you don't have children, will take you back to when you were a child and needed to believe that Father Christmas existed. The mere fact that the Hero Boy actually stepped aboard the Polar Express is a very important aspect as taking the journey is so often as important as the destination. The journey in this case is a wonderful series of mini-adventures that the Hero Boy encounters along with some of the other children aboard the train, some of the moments were actually breath taking when you realised that this was animation - the caribou they encounter across the tracks was one in particular.
This is not particularly a movie for the very young child, but possibly more for the school-aged child and beyond. It was beautiful, striking and awesome, with a story that takes a different slant on a Christmas theme and any vague doubts one may have about believing. It is certainly a family movie and a journey that is definitely worth taking.
Rating : A-