Part #2 of the 2016 Christmas Countdown.
A visually arresting fairytale, The Polar Express is a charming film about rediscovering the magic of Christmas.
It’s Christmas Eve and a young boy seems determined not to fall asleep. However, unlike most children, this is not through excitement for the upcoming festivities, it’s because of his waning faith in Father Christmas.
Later that night, after eventually succumbing to sleep, the unexpected arrival of a steam train outside his house startles the boy awake. After going out to investigate, he finds that the train is bound for the North Pole and is full of children who, like him, have started to question the existence of Santa Claus.
The eye-catching visuals on display here immediately draw us in. They do a fine job of blending the spectacle of a rollercoaster ride with the far more subtle spectacle of Christmas through the eyes of a child.
Tom Hanks puts in a predictably fine performance across numerous characters. His Conductor is initially strict, but eventually reveals himself to be a genuinely warm man who takes great pride in his profession. Hanks also lends an air of mystery to the Hobo, who randomly appears at key moments throughout the film.
There’s a very ethereal quality to The Polar Express. At times we question the reality of what is going on. We suspect that we are witnessing the young boy’s dream, but there are elements that feel distinctly real. For instance, rather than portraying the North Pole as a magical land of Christmas schmaltz, it’s more akin to an industrial town.
Santa himself feels more like a well-respected boss than the traditional jolly old fat man we have come to expect. There’s an affable sternness to him that makes him feel much more real and believable. This believability extends to the surprisingly sinister looking elves, who come across as an industrious workforce, capable of handling the unimaginable workload of the Christmas season.
Overall, The Polar Express is essential Christmas viewing. There’s something here for children and adults alike, and it treats both with an equal amount of respect.