|“||The most real things in the world are the things we can't see.||”|
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 of Back to the Future fame, 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.
This was the last film to which Michael Jeter made a contribution, as he died on March 30, 2003; thus, it was dedicated to his memory. The titular locomotive itself is based off the real life Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive.
|“||On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I laid quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets, I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound I was afraid I'd never hear: the sound of Santa's sleigh bells.||”|
— Opening lines of narration.
On the night before 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 original illustrated 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.||”|
The original songs were written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri. Silvestri also composed and conducted the film's score.
|"The Polar Express"||
|"Jolly Old St. Nicholas" (uncredited)|
|"Hot Chocolate"||Tom Hanks, Pastry Chefs and the Waiters|
|"Good King Wenceslas" (uncredited)|
|"When Christmas Comes to Town"||Matthew Hall and Meagan Moore|
|"Winter Wonderland"||The Andrews Sisters|
|"Silver Bells"||Kate Smith|
|"Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)"||Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters|
|"Deck the Halls"||Mario Lanza|
|"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas"||Perry Como|
|"Frosty the Snowman"||Red Foley|
|"I'll Be Home for Christmas"|
|"White Christmas"||Bing Crosby|
|"Spirit of the Season"||
|"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town"||
|"Rockin' on Top of the World"||Steven Tyler|
The soundtrack album was released by Warner Sunset and Reprise Records. The track listing is as follows:
|1||"The Polar Express"||Tom Hanks|
|2||"When Christmas Comes to Town"|| Matthew Hall|
|3||"Rockin' on Top of the World"||Steven Tyler|
|5||"Hot Chocolate"||Tom Hanks|
|6||"Spirit of the Season"||Alan Silvestri|
|7||"Seeing is Believing"|
|8||"Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town"||Frank Sinatra|
|9||"White Christmas"||Bing Crosby|
|10||"Winter Onderland"||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 with the Andrews Sisters|
|14||"Suite from The Polar Express"||Alan Silvestri|
IMAX 3D version
In addition to standard theatrical 35mm format, a 3D version for IMAX theaters 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.
The film made its home video debut on the VHS and DVD formats on November 22, 2005, with the latter having both a single-disc release, and a 2-disc release containing additional bonus features. An HD DVD release followed on October 10, 2006, with a Blu-ray release then coming out on October 30, 2007. The 3D version was released to DVD and Blu-ray on October 28, 2008 (both formats also included both the 2D versions).
In addition, the DVD of the film was also packaged as part of the Holiday Family Collection box set (alongside A Christmas Story and Happy Feet) in 2009, and in a Double Feature box set with How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 2016. The Blu-ray was also packaged in the 2008 Essential Holiday Collection box set (which also included A Christmas Story, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and Elf).
- On some ABC Family/Freeform airings, the first hobo scene was cut entirely. That results in Hero Boy finding the light from beyond that abruptly disappears for his reaction. The scene where the Conductor explains the first gift of Christmas was cut as well, skipping to the scene where the elves appear.
|Tom Hanks|| Hero Boy (Skin/Adult Narration)|
|Leslie Zemeckis|| Sister Sarah (Skin)|
|Nona Gaye||Hero Girl (Skin)|
|Peter Scolari||Lonely Boy (Skin)|
Jon & Sean Scott
|Michael Jeter|| Smokey (Skin)|
|Chris Coppola|| Toothless Boy|
|Julene Renee||Red Head Girl|
|Charles Fleischer||Elf General|
|Steven Tyler|| Elf Lieutenant|
|Dante Pastula||Little Boy|
|Daryl Sabara||Hero Boy (voice)|
|Andre Sogliuzzo||Smokey & Streamer (voice)|
|Jimmy Bennett||Lonely Boy (voice)|
|Isabella Peregrina||Sister Sarah (voice)|
|Additional Child Performers (Skin)|
|Josh Hutcherson||Hero Boy|
|Ashley Hollowway||Sister Sarah|
|Chantel Valdivieso||Hero Girl|
|Hayden McFarland||Lonely Boy|
|Evan Sahara||Young Boy|
- The Polar Express Wiki
- The Polar Express at the Internet Movie Database
- The Polar Express at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Polar Express at TV Tropes
- Archived ABC Feature Page for The Polar Express
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