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November 9, 2004 > The Polar Express

The Polar Express

Rated G

by Susana Nuñez

"It doesn't matter where the train is going. What matters is deciding to get on."

Chris Van Allsburg's enchanting story The Polar Express comes to life just in time for the holidays. Based on a boy who is losing his faith in Santa Clause, the film takes viewers on a train ride to the North Pole to discover whether the tales of elves and magical reindeer are true. Families around the world have made the story a part of their Christmas celebrations for nearly twenty years. Now everyone can experience the delightful tale onscreen with their loved ones.

For those who are not familiar with the story, The Polar Express is about the moment in a child's life where innocence comes face to face with maturity. Anyone who ever believed in Santa Clause and left milk and cookies out for him remembers when they stopped believing. The nameless boy who goes through this dream-like journey learns that faith has no age and no limits. His friends on the train each learn their own personal lessons, as well; one learns to be a little less smart-mouthed and a little more humble, another discovers the joy of having real friends. "What's interesting about these characters," states Hanks, "is that there is not a unified sensibility to what they are doing on this train, they're not just kids saying 'yay' at the same time. It's a journey of individuals. The only thing they mutually want at the same time is hot chocolate. If you're going to have a bunch of kids all experience Christmas the same way it's not going to be realistic."

The idea of a film based on the children's book came from actor Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. Hanks impressively does the voice-overs for five characters in the film, with a couple of those characters designed with his physical features. The film's imagery stays true to the beauty and richness of Allsburg's illustrations in state of the art computer graphics. The Polar Express is the first film ever to be shot entirely in an advanced technique appropriately named Performance Capture. Attempting to recreate the story through a live-action film was out of the question, since the vivid scenery and character circumstances would have been impossible to portray. Shooting the film in classic cartoon animation also would not work, since it would hinder the film's realistic quality. The end result through the magic of Performance Capture is a fun and vibrant adventure.

With all the busy holiday planning and anticipation for Christmas this year, The Polar Express is a warm, fun-filled getaway that everyone can enjoy. Action films and dramas won't do much to get moviegoers to start spreading yuletide joy, but a loveable classic tale can do the job. Adults as well as children will easily enjoy the film as it takes them back to their childhood days when Santa Clause and his magical world at the North Pole were real. Finding time to see a cheerful holiday film shouldn't be limited to watching old Christmas specials at home!

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