Polar express poster

The poster for the film's theatrical release

One thing about trains: It doesn't matter where they're goin'. What matters is deciding to get on.

— The Conductor, trying to nudge the protagonist into starting the main plot

The Polar Express is a 2004 computer-animated film, based on the children's book of the same title by Chris Van Allsburg. Written, produced, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the "human" characters in the film were "animated" using "live-action" performance capture technique, with the exception of the waiters who dispense hot chocolate on the train, because their feats were impossible for animated actors to achieve. Performance capture technology incorporates the movements of live actors into animated characters.

The film stars Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, and Eddie Deezen, with Tom Hanks in six distinct roles. It was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone, and Golden Mean, for Warner Bros. The visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studio first released the $170 million film in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on Wednesday, November 10, 2004.

It was the last film to which Michael Jeter made a contribution, as he had died on March 30, 2003; it is dedicated to his memory. The locomotive itself is based off the real life Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive.


On Christmas Eve, a young boy is hoping for belief in the true spirit of Christmas. He suddenly hears some noise from downstairs and runs to investigate. Seeing a shadow of what appears to be Santa Claus, he soon discovers it's his parents and sister, Sarah. He runs back to his room and looks through magazines and encyclopedias for confirmation of Santa and the North Pole, but to no avail. Hearing his parents coming, he runs back to bed and pretends to be asleep while they whisper about how he had once stayed up late listening for Santa. When they mention how if he stops believing, it would mean the end of the magic, this leaves him curious as to what they said. About an hour after they leave, a magic train called The Polar Express pulls up in front of his house. He is invited aboard by its mysterious conductor to journey to the North Pole. Though he initially hesitates, he boards it after it starts to depart for the next stop.


On the train, the boy encounters a group of other children who are on their way to see Santa Claus as well, including a young girl, a know-it-all kid, and a lonely little boy whom he had to stop the train for. The boy also encounters a mysterious hobo, who lives on the top of the train, as well as the engineer and fireman. They must all overcome a variety of obstacles; at one point, a herd of caribou block the tracks. Later, the cotter pin holding the throttle together breaks. The train, now out of control and with the boy, girl, and conductor standing on the front, then reaches "Glacier Gulch", an area with steep downhill grades. They must hold on tightly as the train speeds through Glacier Gulch and onto a frozen lake. The tracks are frozen under the ice, and as a result, the conductor must guide the engineer and the fireman towards the other side of the lake as the ice breaks up behind them (mostly due to the broken cotter pin).


They then reach the North Pole and find out that the lonely boy, whose name is Billy, sitting alone in the observation car at the back of the train, does not want to see Santa because he has come from a broken home on the bad side of his hometown. He says that Christmas does not work out for him. The boy and girl (unknowingly followed by the know-it-all kid) run back to try to get him to come along with them, but the boy accidentally steps on the uncoupling lever and the observation car speeds back to the roundhouse.


They travel from section to section of the North Pole's industrial area, first visiting the Control Center, then the Wrapping Hall, and the present warehouse where they are airlifted back to the center of the city via airship in Santa's bag full of presents. As they watch the final preparations, a bell falls off Santa's sleigh. The boy picks it up and shakes it, remembering that the girl could hear them earlier when he could not. As before, he can't hear its ring (only the word "doubter"). He then says he believes in Santa and the spirit of Christmas. He then sees Santa's reflection on the bell; he shakes it again and hears it at last. He gives it back to Santa.

The boy is handpicked by Santa to receive "The First Gift Of Christmas." Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, he asks for the bell (that only believers can hear). He places it in his robe pocket and all the children watch as Santa takes off for his yearly deliveries.


The children return to the train, and the conductor punches letters into each ticket as they board for the ride home. They spell some form of advice (such as "Learn," "Lead," or "Believe" for the know-it-all kid, girl, and boy respectively). As the train leaves, the boy discovers a hole in his robe pocket and the bell missing. He returns home, saddened by the loss of the bell, but is cheered when he sees that Santa had already arrived at Billy's house. On Christmas morning, Sarah finds a small present hidden behind the tree after all the others have been opened. He opens it and discovers that it's the bell along with a note saying that Santa had found it on the seat of his sleigh and that he should fix that hole in his pocket. When he rings it, both he and Sarah marvel at the beautiful sound; but because their parents no longer truly believe in Santa or the spirit of Christmas, they do not hear its beautiful sound and think it's broken. The last line in the film repeats the same last line from the book:

"At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it felt silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."

Soundtrack listing

Polar Express soundtrack

The cover to the soundtrack album

# Track Performer
1 "The Polar Express" Tom Hanks
2 "When Christmas Comes to Town" Matthew Hall and Meagan Moore
3 "Rockin' on Top of the World" Steven Tyler
4 "Believe" Josh Groban
5 "Hot Chocolate" Tom Hanks
6 "Spirit of the Season" Alan Silvestri
7 "Seeing is Believing" Alan Silvestri
8 "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" Frank Sinatra
9 "White Christmas" Bing Crosby
10 "Winter Wonderland" The Andrews Sisters
11 "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" Perry Como with the Fontane Sisters
12 "Silver Bells" Kate Smith
13 "Here Comes Santa Claus" Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters
14 "Suite from the Polar Express" Alan Silvestri


Home video

The IMAX 3D version

In addition to standard theatrical 35mm format, a 3D version for IMAX was also released, generated from the same 3D digital models used for the standard version. It was the first motion picture not specially made for IMAX to be presented in this format, and the first to open in IMAX 3D at the same time as main flat release. The 3D version out-performed the 2D version by about 14 to 1. The 3D IMAX version was released again for the 2005 Holiday season in 66 IMAX theaters and made another $7.5 million prior to Christmas. Due to its financial success, the IMAX version was re-released in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and has become an annual Christmas movie. The 3D version was released to DVD and Blu-ray Disc on October 28, 2008. Both formats include both the 2D and 3D versions.


Voice actor Character
Tom Hanks Conductor
Santa Claus
Hero Boy's father
Hero Boy (as an adult)
Daryl Sabara Hero Boy
Nona Gaye Hero Girl
Jimmy Bennett Billy
Eddie Deezen Know-It-All Kid
Charles Fleischer Head Elf
Steven Tyler Singing Elf
Michael Jeter Smokey
Leslie Zemeckis Hero Boy's mother
Isabella Peregrin Sarah

External links

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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Pictures Christmas in ConnecticutGremlinsNational Lampoon's Christmas VacationJack FrostNational Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island AdventureThe Year Without a Santa ClausFred ClausA Christmas Story 2
New Line Cinema ElfThe Nativity StoryFour ChristmasesA Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
Live-action television episodes
Friends and Joey "The One With Phoebe's Dad" • "The One Where Rachel Quits" • "The One With the Girl from Poughkeepsie" • "The One With the Inappropriate Sister" • "The One With the Routine" • "The One With the Holiday Armadillo" • "The One With the Creepy Holiday Card" • "The One With Christmas in Tulsa" • "Joey and the Plot Twist" • "Joey and the Christmas Party"
DC Comics "Season's Greedings" • "Home is Where the Hurt Is" • "Twas the Night Before Mxymas" • "Lexmas" • "Gemini" • "Year's End" • "Three Ghosts"
Other shows "A Semi-Merry Christmas" • "Mel, the Magi" • "Mel's Christmas Carol" • "'Tis the Season to Be Jealous" • "A Christmas Story" (Growing Pains) • "A Christmas Story" (Just the Ten of Us) • "Santa on the Lam" • "Miracle on Elm Street" • "The Christmas Show" • "Fa La La La Laagghh!" • "The Man Who Canceled Christmas" • "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" • "Deck the Malls" • "Christmas Day-Ja Vu" • "A Country Christmas" • "How the Finch Stole Christmas" • "Meet the Cuban Parents" • "Christmas Punch" • "A Clear and Presentless Danger" • "George Is Being Elfish and Christ-Misses His Family" • "Santa's Secret Stuff" • "A Very Supernatural Christmas" • "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis" • "Christmas" (The Middle) • "It's Beginning to Stink a Lot Like Christmas" • "The Maternal Congruence" • "Jolly Red Elf" • "The World Ain't Over 'Till It's Over" • "The Santa Simulation" • "Give Santa a Tail-Hole" | "Home for Christmas
Animated productions
Looney Tunes and related shows The Shanty Where Santy Claus LivesBedtime for SnifflesGift WrappedBugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales • "It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special" • "'Twas the Day Before Christmas" • "Jingle Boo" • "The Great Wakkorotti: The Holiday Concert" • "A Christmas Plotz" • "Little Drummer Warners" • "No Time for Christmas" • "A Pinky and the Brain Christmas" • "It Happened One Night Before Christmas" • "In Arms Way" • "The Twelve Days of Christmas" • Christmas Eve with Yakko, Wakko & Dot • "Noel" • "The Christmas Tree" • "The Banks of the Delaware River" • "Feather Christmas" • "Yule Be Sorry" • "Christmas in July" • Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas • "A Christmas Carol" • "Tis the Seasoning"
DC Comics "Christmas With the Joker" • "Holiday Knights" • "Frozen Out" • "Comfort and Joy" • "Storybook Holiday" • "Invasion of the Secret Santas!" • "Second Christmas" • "The True Meaning of Christmas" • "Teen Titans Save Christmas"
Other cartoons "A Dickens of a Christmas" • "Yuletide and Redtide" • A Scooby-Doo! Christmas • "The Match Before Xmas" • The Polar Express • "Ho Ho Horrors" • Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker TaleA Miser Brothers' Christmas • "Da Grinchy Code / Duck" • "FROST / Undercover Claus" • Scooby-Doo! Haunted Holidays • "Fantastic Four Christmases / Red and White Collar" • "The Plight Before Christmas" • Tom and Jerry: Santa's Little HelpersElf: Buddy's Musical Christmas • "Scary Christmas"
Have Yourself a Looney Tunes ChristmasA Hip-Hopera ChristmasMerry Christmas: Animaniacs & Looney TunesThe Looney Tunes Kwazy ChristmasA Looney Tunes Sing-A-Long Christmas