T’is the season for holiday movies, and there are some that are cute and funny, and some that don’t quite make the grade, and some of them can climb a grade so steep, it’s a wonder that we can ever come down from the experience. So, as the Yuletide season comes before us, it is time for Musings to give The Polar Express a second look.
Set in the mid-20th century, a young boy (voice-actor Tom Hanks) of about maybe ten or eleven years is doubting the existence of St. Nickolas. There is much information out there to dissuade him. The headlines from the local papers, the reference books that say the arctic is frigid and devoid of life (which we know is untrue!). The boy, whose name we never really learn, is really doubting his beliefs this season. He hears things outside, in the house, and is hoping to be proven wrong. He gets up, sees the milk and cookies are still out, then goes back to bed, about to give up hope. His parents check on him, and to them, he is out like a light, and they think not even a speeding express train could wake him.
Soon after they leave, a loud rumble comes from the street, and there are moving lights outside. He goes to the frosted window in his room to see what is going on, and there is a beautiful passenger train stopping right outside his front door. He grabs his robe, in which a pocket rips, and puts on his slippers and runs outside. The conductor (Tom Hanks) is yelling for all passengers to come on board. The boy asks the conductor what is going on, and where the train is going. “Why to the North Pole, of course!” he answers. He reads a little information about the boy to him, and the kid is puzzled, since he has no idea how this man could know these things. He is fearful, but curious, and at first does not want to get on the train. He also sees this as magical opportunity not to be missed, and wants to know what happens next, so he jumps on the train as it starts to head out.
When he gets on, he settles in, and a nerdy know-it-all boy (Eddie Deezen) tells him all about the train they are on. Sitting across him is a cute, dark girl with her hair in looped braids dressed in a flannel nightie and pink slippers (Nona Gaye). She smiles at him, as if she is holding a sly secret. The boy looks over, and she tells him that it is true, that they are heading to the North Pole. They ride through the town, and the kids see their favourite department store all decked out for the holidays. The Santa in the window display is a crude animatron, and the boy is a bit disappointed. The train stops again on “the other side” of the tracks to pick up another kid. This boy is another doubter whose past holidays have not be very much worth celebrating. At first, he decides not to get on, but changes his mind at the last minute. The other boy uses the emergency brake to stop the train, and the conductor is rather upset at this, considering his “tight schedule”. The thing is, this entire train ride is in a time stop, and even though there is activity going on for hours within it, the clock never goes beyond five minutes till midnight, Dec. 24.
The train finally gets up to speed, and tears through the Canadian wilderness. The conductor punches the kids’ tickets, and then offers them refreshment in a song and dance delivery of some steaming hot chocolate. The girl holds back some chocolate for the kid in the other car, and his going to take it to him. The know-it-all tells her that is illegal for safety reasons for a minor to go alone. She is about to go out when the conductor catches her. She tells him about the kid in the back car, and he escorts her to him. The boy sees her ticket on the seat, and since it has not been punched yet, decides to take it to her. This begins one of the most amazing visual spectacles that could only be created by computer animation, but seem so real. Could this be what Chris Van Allsburg envisioned when he wrote The Polar Express?
This visual telling of this classic tale is a holiday tradition of its own, and should be be enjoyed along with all the Yuletide trimmings. It is as exciting as waiting for Santa and as warm as a cup of peppermint mocha on a frosty Christmas Eve. It gets Musings highest stars for being the star of our Yuletide tree.
I give this film a Musing review of