The Polar Express
directed by Robert Zemeckis
(Warner Bros., 2004)

Hopefully, with this wonderful film now available along with the original book, no child will grow to adulthood without taking a ride on The Polar Express. It's a wonderful story about the spirit of Christmas and the importance of giving. The incredible animation of the film may always be the first thing people speak of, but in the end it really does come down to the story. It is not what you see, it's what you feel -- these are the memories that will linger.

The digital animation that brings this story to visual life is nothing short of astounding. This revolutionary "performance capture" technology makes these characters the most life-like animated characters I've ever seen. I think they look more human than actual humans, truth be told -- except for Santa Claus. It's a weird thing about this Santa; he immediately reminded me of none other than Harry Potter's Professor Snape (even though Santa's voice was actually that of Tom Hanks).

I've heard that some kids found the whole visual look of the characters rather creepy, but I think the uncanny technology really makes the film come alive. By incorporating the motions of live actors into the digital creative process, filmmakers were able to imbue their creations with the nuances of human expression, and one can hardly underestimate just how much that adds to the viewer's experience of the animated story. It's really quite incredible. Traditional animation would hardly have done this story justice, and it would have been incredibly challenging to film such a magical journey in the traditional manner. This film has some of the most unique and exciting camera angles and perspectives I've ever seen.

It's hard to see how anyone, child or adult, could not enjoy this movie. It's an incredible journey, filled with both excitement and comedy, to the North Pole, for Pete's sake. There are also moments of great warmth and emotion -- most of them supplied by the Hero Girl (Nona Gaye). Hanks may steal the show in his performance of five different roles, including the Hero Boy at the center of things, but the Hero Girl -- who befriends a forlorn little boy (Peter Scolari) who shies away from everyone else -- is the heart and soul of this film.

I couldn't help but think of Nuremberg when I saw the masses of elves rallying around Santa before his Christmas Eve departure. Clearly, though, there is nothing but joy and kindness in this mass assembly of people -- er, elves. I loved this movie. Unless you're a grinch or a Scrooge, just watching it will take you back to your own days of childhood and the magic that Christmas once brought. The Polar Express is a visually dazzling, heart-warming, exceedingly good (in all senses of the word) motion picture.

by Daniel Jolley
29 July 2006

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