The Polar Express (2004)

“But sometimes seeing is believing. And sometimes, the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”- The Conductor

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Written by: Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles, Jr

Cinematography: Don Burgess, Robert Presley

Starring: Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, Eddie Deezen and Michael Jeter


All I wanted for Christmas was the bell from Santa’s Sleigh-

That’s all I wanted. To have that bell in my hand, to hold it next to my ear and to softly jingle it. I wanted to hear its beautiful chime and to believe once again, to know everything I had seemingly come to know about Christmas to be true.

The Plot: Multiple Personalities?

Okay, I’ll admit that everything I’m about to write comes purely from my own speculation. I hope you weren’t expecting a play-by-play review because this certainly ain’t it!

As The Polar Express makes its way from Hero Kid’s home to the North Pole, nearly everyone he encounters is a shadow or a prediction of himself. This was considered at first because they were all performed by Tom Hanks, so I automatically assumed there was some kind of connection. But after a while, I realised that simply seeing Santa Claus would never be enough for Hero Boy to grow as a character. The first personality he comes across is the Conductor. You’d think that someone who is so punctual, logical and level-headed wouldn’t be capable of believing in Santa after his childhood ends. Yet here he is helping children overcome their lapses of belief with his own brand of whimsy. Hero Boy has a very similar personality. That sense of self-wielded magic the Conductor possesses is something Hero Boy never thought he himself could have. So when he sees it in someone else, Hero Boy begins to open his eyes, even if it’s just a little bit. What else could have prompted Hero Boy to get on the roof of a fast-tracked train just to ensure a fellow passenger got her ticket?

Of course, on the roof we encounter the Hobo. I like to think of him as a Jacob Marley-type figure for Hero Boy, a type of warning for what would happen if Hero Boy continued to maul over and obsess about Santa Claus and the existence of magic. The Hobo isn’t poor because of a lack of money, he’s poor because he stripped himself of belief and filled his heart with cynicism. It’s no wonder the Hobo can never leave the train. A part of me believes that he was once a passenger on the train, but got so scared of what he didn’t know that he threw himself off board, only to be caught by the train’s magic and became trapped. He never learned his lesson, so he could never go home. The Hobo knew Hero Boy could have the same fate, so he quietly urged the kid in the right direction. Luckily, Hero Boy took the hint.

And finally we come to Santa Claus. Maybe Santa isn’t a ‘shadow’ of Hero Boy, but he certainly is the instigator of the next part of Hero Boy’s Journey. Upon seeing Santa, Hero Boy now believes, but that’s still not enough. He needs to continue to grow, and it certainly can’t hurt to have a reminder, so Santa lets him have a bell for the First Present of Christmas. I’ll talk more about the bell later.

I also find it interesting that we never learn the kid’s actual names, apart from Billy. The main kid is simply known as Hero Boy, there’s the Hero Girl, and the annoying kid is The Know-It-All Kid. From a both literary and film-making standpoint, I could guess that this is a case of the writers and director wanting the audience to be able to apply themselves to the characters. Names can sometimes get in the way when you want to relate yourself to a character you feel represents a certain part of you. I’m sure there’s a good reason why Billy got his named mentioned, other than to further along the plot when he finds and wants to follow his present towards the sleigh. If there is a reason, I certainly haven’t found it.

And just to quickly comment on the Know-It-All kid, as annoying as he was, I’m certainly glad he was there. He wasn’t exactly a parallel to Hero Boy, but he was still a good example for what can happen if you allow logic and knowledge to fuel your obnoxiousness. If any kid deserved to have the First Present of Christmas, it definitely wasn’t him!

The Music:

Alan Silvestri has composed the soundtrack for some of my favourite films, especially Who Framed Roger Rabbit, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the music for this film is sensational. A mark of any good composer is the ability to work the music with the scene without undermining what is actually happening at the time. What I really enjoy about the score in this film is that the music only shows up for when it’s really needed. Transitional scenes and emotional moments are accompanied, but the film trusts itself enough to allow the dialogue to tell the story without assistance from non-diegetic noise.

I love ‘When Christmas Comes to Town’. The accompanying music score and visuals is absolutely beautiful! Definitely the best moment of the film for me. In primary school, I actually hung back after music class once so I could sing it to our music teacher because I loved it so much. Of course, this was back when I believed I could actually sing, so I may have to apologise if I ever see her again! The Hot Chocolate scene was also a bit of fun, even if it was just a way of experimenting with motion-capture. It’s one of many songs that get stuck in my head for days after watching the film.


Now, I really haven’t looked much into motion-capture, which is odd because I like to call myself a bit of a film nut. This was the first film I ever watched that used mo-cap and I’d be lying if I said I liked the final look of it. The quieter scenes look as realistic as early 2000’s technology would allow it, but others are quite off-putting. The entire scene of the roof of the train threw me out of the film’s illusion. I wish I could describe exactly why, but it’s a little hard to explain. Despite all of that, you can bet I would go and see it in IMAX if they were ever to re-release it into the cinemas! The train-roller coaster debacle would be super cool!


In Conclusion: Hearing the Bell

As I stated earlier, there’s nothing more I wanted for Christmas than that bell! Apparently my parents even went searching for one for a few years, never finding a bell that even came close. I’m grateful to them for trying to make my dream come true. Even now a part of me still wants the bell, but in more of a corny, symbolic, emotional kind of way. In my last post, I came off as very bitter, perhaps in the same way Hero Boy would’ve acted had he not decided to hop onto the Polar Express and taken a chance.

This film can act as a remainder to Bah-Humbug personalities like myself that maybe you shouldn’t take Christmas too literally. The Christmas Spirit isn’t something you have to earn, just sit back and allow it to find you. Go on the journey you need to take, no matter how long the trail may be. You’ll never know where it may come from.

And with that corny Christmas message, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas, or whatever you happen to celebrate this time of year! This is my last post until the first week of January, so Happy New Year as well! See you again in 2017!


Film Reviews

Marni Hill View All →

Muppet Enthusiast, Film Lover, Book Adorer. No one original, but (hopefully) providing brand new perspectives for the world to process. Currently a Bachelor of Arts undergraduate at Deakin University.

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