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by Phil Boatwright at




November 10, 2004




Voices of Tom Hanks, Ichael Jeter, Peter Scolari, Nona Gaye


Robert Zemeckis & William Broyles, Jr.


Robert Zemeckis


Warner Brothers


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The Polar Express

By Phil Boatwright - A little boy on the verge of no longer believing in Santa Clause is awakened Christmas Eve to what appears to be an earthquake. He runs out the front door to find a locomotive where the street used to be. A friendly conductor bids him aboard and the lad soon finds himself on his way to the North Pole along with other adolescent nonbelievers to see Kris Kringle himself. On the way, he and the other children have several adventures, mostly concerning the near wrecking of the train.

It’s rated G, it stars Tom Hanks, Warner Bros. put all their X-mas-present-buying loot into the production, and it has a holiday theme. It can’t lose. And as long as the very little ones aren’t scared out of their PJs by all the dangerous situations the kids on board get into, I’m sure it will be a family favorite this season.

But I have a few problems with The Polar Express. Now, it’s a fantasy, so I guess we don’t need to spend time warning young ones of friendly strangers luring them away from home without the knowledge of their parents. Okay, we’ll let that one pass. But I have other issues, the main one being with yet again another cinema chestnut whose theme is that of believing in the big fat man with the long white beard. In some movies, such as Miracle of 34th Street, Santa refers to himself as a symbol. The premise of that film concerns believing in things unseen. But this film is not so much a lesson in having faith as it is bound and determined to get kids to believe in, shhh, you know who. And once again, we have a Christmas movie stressing that the true meaning of the holiday is about family, festivities and presents. In the hearts of Christians everywhere, Christmas is a day we celebrate the birth of the world’s Savoir. But in Tinseltown, it’s too often about filling Christmas stockings. Their Christmas stockings.

Then there’s the CG animation. According to the press notes it is cutting-edge computer generated technology. The innovation allows live-action performances to be copied into a digital animation form. To tell you the truth, I thought it was kind of creepy. I won’t say their eyes were lifeless, but something was missing. They look soulless, fake, like androids. So why do this process rather than filming actors? Because they can. We live in a time when things are done simply because they can be. It’s rather like replacing a ringer on a cell phone with a microchip that plays a few bars of Mozart or Burt Bacharach. It’s that because-they-can mentality.

Now, we come to the manipulative direction of Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away). Though Mr. Zemeckis is unquestionably a talented director, there are two elements alone that make up his effort here and he beats them both to death: saccharine sentimentality and cartoonish roller coaster thrills. As for the former, there’s enough sweetness in this film to send a Sugar Plum Fairy into insulin shock. As to the latter, it may be too intense for the smallest members of your family. We see a train going out of control several times, and a child nearly falling off the top of a railway car as he attempts to walk across it, plus children crossing a fathomless crevice by means of a narrow rail, as well as other stressful situations. These kids are constantly falling into or off of something. It was unnerving even for this jaded movie junky.

It’s not a terrible, gosh-awful movie, but neither is it the captivating wonder it should have been.

Rated: G (There are some positive life lessons concerning friendship and what’s really important in life, but beware the many life-threatening situations that make up this action adventure. Parents should attend to reassure little ones).

Video Alternatives: Miracle On 34th Street. Richard Attenborough, Mara Wilson. The manager of a New York department store hires Kris Kringle to be the store Santa. Soon the old fellow has to convince the woman and her precocious daughter that he truly is Father Christmas.

A delight and a rarity, as this is one of the few worthwhile remakes. Full of laughter, poignancy and charm, it is noteworthy for containing both visual and verbal Christian metaphors and points out that Santa is a symbol. It contains a great visual: A cross lit in Christmas lights on the side of a building, centered in the screen with decorated trees outlining the tableau. What an image! It places the true meaning of the holiday at the center of the screen and the story. There's even a Thanksgiving prayer – when’s the last time you saw that in a Hollywood production?

Although Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood have nothing to worry about, the newer Miracle is heartwarming. The scene where Santa communicates with a little deaf girl is worth the rental price. PG (one expletive; Santa is provoked by the villain, but he later repents).

Or if you would rather skip on Old St. Nick, try: The Greatest Adventure – The Nativity. A respectful animated homage to the greatest story ever told, with three young archeologists going through a time portal and finding themselves in Jerusalem during the birth of Christ.

Dear Readers:
Please remember, as a movie reporter, I try to give the positive and negative of a film. While I hope you enjoy reading my opinion, I pray it is the synopsis and content that help you decide if the new release is suitable for your family’s viewing. I suggest the video alternatives because they address similar themes but lack today’s objectionable content.

Phil Boatwright is the editor of The Movie Reporter. Review used by permission. Go to Phil Boatwright's website at for details on how to have reviews of new films delivered directly to your e-mail address.

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