( 2 STARS) THE POLAR EXPRESS (G). On Christmas Eve, a boy
on the cusp of his Santa Claus Crisis takes the fast train to the North Pole.
Based on a modern classic, the film boasts far more technology than charm. With
Robert Zemeckis and William Broyles Jr. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. (1:37).
At area theaters.
Anyone 25 or younger probably has a copy of "The Polar Express" on the
shelf, or boxed away with the Mario Brothers cartridges, New Kids on the Block
albums and pirated copies of "Pee-wee's Playhouse." Published in 1985, Chris
Van Allsburg's Caldicott Medal-winning Christmas tale has become to today's
wide-eyed wonderers what "A Christmas Carol," "The Night Before Christmas" and
"It's a Wonderful Life" have been to generations past.
In other words, it was a movie waiting to happen, bound to happen, with
studio executives slavering in anticipation, whether or not the computer
technology was ready to do justice to Van Allsburg's memorable illustrations,
or offer any justification as to why animation should have been used in the
The sad fact is, the characterizations in Robert Zemeckis' "Polar Express"
- created via CGI technology and a new technique called Performance Capture, an
advanced motion-capture system that uses live action to choreograph the
animation - are, to be brief, creepy. Watching the dead-eyed population of
"Polar Express" and their supposedly "natural" movements made me think more of
Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" than anything associated with Christmas. The
Polar Express is a zombie train.
Naturally, the relatively tiny book had to be fleshed out to fill the 97
minutes necessary for a major motion picture, so there are musical numbers and
extended trips through Santa's toy factory, which give the animators the
opportunity to inject high- speed, vertigo-inducing action into a rather placid
story line. The "hot chocolate" scene, in which singing/dancing waiters serve
refreshments to the carload of yule tykes, is the most energetic sequence in
the film; the repetitive roller-coaster shots of the Polar Express plummeting
up and down rolling tracks that make the Alps seem like a salt flat show that
the filmmakers were desperate to keep the movie moving.
Tom Hanks voices six roles, including the principal Hero Boy, who, losing
his faith in Christmas, is whisked away on Christmas Eve by the conductor
(Hanks again) to the North Pole, en route meeting a hobo (Hanks), Ebenezer
Scrooge (Hanks) and Santa himself (you guessed it). His companions include the
Hero Girl (Nona Gaye), perhaps the most disturbing-looking character onboard;
the Know-It-All Boy (Eddie Deezen), who looks like a cross between Corey
Feldman and Henry Kissinger (pretty disturbing itself) and the Lonely Boy
(Peter Scolari), who seems destined for unhappiness, except we know better than
The only unhappiness will be on the part of an audience looking for magic
and getting computer technology instead. If the simulation of human beings was
what Zemeckis and Co. were after, they might have tried something novel, and
used human beings.
Otherwise, they should have shelved Performance Capture until it could
churn out something a bit more appealing than what seem to be the Children of