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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I remember seeing The Polar Express with a group of friends in 2004. I was working a student job at WEIU-TV at the time, and we had an infrequent tradition of getting together each Friday to get dinner, hang back at someone’s apartment, or catch a movie. This time, we decided to check out The Polar Express. It was an odd choice, no doubt, for a group of college kids, but I think everyone was pretty glad we went to it.
Based on the children’s book of the same name, The Polar Express tells the tale of “Hero Boy” who is allowed onto the titular Polar Express on way to meet Santa Claus. The story really is not the greatest thing in the world. It is largely a case of “believing in Christmas” which is resolved with “SANTA!” It is very simple, but there is elegance in its simplicity. It is the perfect family film which can be enjoyed by all ages. It does not feel the need to pander to the lowest common denominator, nor does it give into the urge to throw a couple of “adult-only” gags to satisfy parents. On that level, it succeeds on being a holiday classic.
That said there are some portions of the film that can be a chore to get through. Most notably is when the kids get to the North Pole. I was somewhat ready for the film to end, but it just keeps going. I realize this was supposed to be magical and heartwarming (and it is), but I feel that it drags a little too long for its own good.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film employs the use of motion capture. This was, of course, before Zemeckis became completely obnoxious with it. We do slightly enter the uncanny valley with some shots, but it never really distracts from the overall product. I think using this kind of animation works in this movie’s favor. It gave it a surreal look, which has largely worn out its welcome by 2012 standards.
I also have to give a shout-out for the wonderful Tom Hanks. He has something like 6 roles in this movie, and he is great in every single one. Then again, Tom Hanks is probably one of the best actors out there today. If anyone was going to make this movie work, it was going to be Tom Hanks.
If you are looking to watch something that screams Christmas, but you are going to watch it with multiple people with different tastes, you cannot go wrong with The Polar Express. It is charming and holiday-centered with no hints of pretension. While it may not be memorable in the long run, it is just an overall solid film. And, sometimes, that is just enough.