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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 12.7%
Just Average: 26.98%
Pretty Crappy: 19.84%
Sucks: 12.7%

9 reviews, 72 user ratings

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Polar Express, The
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by David Cornelius

"The coal fumes are making me sleepy..."
2 stars

There’s something off about Robert Zemeckis’ CGI cartoon “The Polar Express.” Not just the eerily robotic-ness of the character animation, and not just the strange lack of amazement involving the film’s North Pole scenes, and not just the horrible musical numbers. The problem is bigger than these. You see, it’s a film that works in pieces, but pasted together, it refuses to hold.

The film, adapted from the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, follows the adventures of an boy (we never learn his name) who’s at the age where he’s starting to doubt the existence of one Mr. S. Claus. That’s when a magical train pulls up outside his house on Christmas Eve, inviting him on board the journey north. What follows is an uneven series of episodes, as the boy discovers a mysterious hobo, helps save the train from crashing, sneaks off to explore Santa’s city, etc., etc.

Things get off to a decent start. There’s just the right sense of holiday wonder in the air. Watch for that long, glorious sequence in which we follow a lost ticket as it flies and flurries across the landscape. And the curious casting of Tom Hanks in six different roles (all of which were digitally “captured” with Hanks performing the actual movements, and many of which share Hanks’ facial features) adds a dreamlike quality to the tale; people come and go, but they’re all kinda the same in this fantasy. With all of this, it’s easy to get involved with the characters and their doings. Really, what’s not to like about a stowaway hobo who might be a ghost, or the lonely poor kid who needs a little friendship to help restore his faith in Christmas, or the kindly conductor who knows all? Everything zips along at a brisk pace, keeping the energy level high and the action plowing ahead, especially with all those scenes of the train barreling down a mountainside at top speed.

But then, it starts to sink in. What are all these action scenes doing in a quaint holiday movie? This film deserves a quiet sense of charm, not full-volume antics and breakneck suspense. When did this become “Jingle All the Way?”

With that thought now firmly in mind, it’s easier to locate the flaws - most notably, the terrible, terrible, terrible musical numbers. A dandy Tom Hanks-performed jazz bit aside, the tunes here all grate. It’s mostly generic Christmas fluff, co-written by pop schlocker Glenn Ballard (Dianne Warren was unavailable, I suppose), with the two worst songs saved for the end: a dopey faux-swing jam sung by Steven Tyler (whom we see in CGI elf form, a disturbing sight that’s not too easy to shake from memory), and a closing credits item performed by Josh Groban and written entirely with Oscar voters in mind. We also have chances for the kids to stop and sing, each song slamming the story to a halt and forces bland cuteness down our throats.

When we finally arrive at the North Pole, we learn that this is a movie that’s all build up, no pay off. Santa’s city is mostly absent in magic; there’s no time spent on the sense of awe given to this supposedly wondrous place. (It’s Santa’s Workshop, and the filmmakers just take the fantasy for granted.) And then, worse yet, all the set-ups fail to work through. The hobo ghost is never explained. A bit about how gifts must not be opened before Christmas becomes useless when we find out one kid opened his - and nothing happens. And the main character’s concerns about believing in Santa? Well, for some reason, he’s still not sure he believes... even though he just rode a magical train to a hidden city at the top of the world, where he finds thousands of Christmas elves. If that doesn’t make you believe, what will? What’s supposed to be a curious study of the power of faith instead becomes a stumbling block for logic.

With “The Polar Express,” Zemeckis had a chance to do something truly wonderful. Instead, he slaps together something depressingly mediocre, and not even the few very good scenes sprinkled throughout can save it. This is a film that assumes it’s bound to be a family favorite but never actually works to earn it - a patchwork of sequences that just don’t fit together. The viewer walks away knowing he’s experienced something Christmasy, but never won over by the holiday spirit. The best holiday movies fill our hearts and make us believe. “The Polar Express” just makes us shrug.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10918&reviewer=392
originally posted: 12/02/04 02:42:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good christmas movie 4 stars
12/16/11 Liz Nice story, extremely creepy animation 2 stars
12/23/09 Shawn This film sucks. You need to be on acid to to make sense of it. 1 stars
12/13/09 RLan A good christmas movie. Best viewed by families. 4 stars
12/04/09 RK Yes, it's a little weird...but also very good. Love the 3 kids, esp the girl. 4 stars
1/22/09 Seinfeld Lover Yet ANOTHER great book ruined when it became a movie 1 stars
1/14/09 Anonymous. not many, if any, animated movies are like this one. 4 stars
9/16/08 Chad An absolutely perfect animated film, my all time favorite animated movie 5 stars
9/02/08 Shaun Wallner Great Kids Film! 5 stars
5/30/07 ES Zzzzz 2 stars
3/26/07 kathy underheart childress' review made be blow chunks. Yeah, the 'holiday classic' noone bothers with today 1 stars
12/28/06 David Cohen Eddie Deezan and wooden facial expressions bring down a potential classic 3 stars
12/24/06 dk Soulless but entertaining. 4 stars
12/02/06 Tangelo Soosepot Evokes winter. Takes the X out of X-mas and inserts creepy Santa. 2 stars
12/02/06 Mary Ruined not only a great book but the SPIRIT of Christmas too. 1 stars
12/01/06 M. Wolff An ugly, dead thing. This mushy horror could kill Christmas. 1 stars
9/28/06 Big Fan Best X-mas movie on the planet 5 stars
7/11/06 ian afford good to watch at xmas with the kids in booze fueled coma 3 stars
1/03/06 jeffrey blake great film,an animated feature that adults can enjoy 5 stars
12/15/05 Quigley the glacier gulch scene is worth $9. the movie is both stunning and occasionally emotional. 5 stars
12/15/05 Eden Soulless and empty, with creepy children 1 stars
12/13/05 Ginger I hated it! They took the book and RUINED it as a movie! It sucked!!! 1 stars
12/08/05 Phil M. Aficionado Stunning visually, but limp emotionally; and what is the point, exactlly? I missed it. 3 stars
12/07/05 someone special it sucked 1 stars
11/28/05 Melissa AWESOME!!! 5 stars
11/25/05 Thomas webb Great chistmas classic - Best in IMAX... 5 stars
11/23/05 Evil Wolfie I usually hate Christmas movies, but this was actually good. Go figure....... 4 stars
9/26/05 rafi not much of an adult movie , but still very nice.. 4 stars
9/21/05 Jonathon Holmes good movie, but not as good as "The Incredibles" 4 stars
7/04/05 mariann This is a must-see in 3D, at the IMAX theatres! Incredible and charming! 5 stars
6/06/05 Helen Bradley Very clever fast script Hanks awesome 5 stars
4/23/05 Quigley the glacier culch sequence is worth $9. could've been more emotional, but still a classic 5 stars
1/29/05 Frank Tells good movie 3 stars
1/29/05 Lisa Clarizio Creepy animation for christmas 2 stars
1/27/05 Jeff Anderson The greatest family holiday movie of ALL TIME! See it right away. A MUST SEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
1/07/05 shane brown held on to my seat train was faster than a roller coaster 5 stars
1/05/05 Scott Smith Awesome! An instant classic on a grand scale. 5 stars
12/28/04 Bill Masengarb Will become a Christmas classic. 5 stars
12/28/04 Natalie Stonecipher Falls pretty flat, even for lovers of train journeys and Santa Claus story. 2&1/2 stars. 3 stars
12/26/04 cindy parry Wonderful! saw it 3 times! 5 stars
12/17/04 Theresa Wagner great retelling of the book, nicely crafted 4 stars
12/12/04 Donna Cole Magical 5 stars
12/11/04 Michael Baldaccini This Movie is great Family fun. My kids love it! 5 stars
12/08/04 James Culp Great !Cartoon greatest effort in 70yr 5 stars
12/07/04 Michael AWESOME. SEE IT AT THE IMAX THEATER IN 3-D 5 stars
12/05/04 Mark D Fulwiler Disappointing 3 stars
12/02/04 Pau-red Didn't have an issue with the eyes, did you actually watch the movie or just the preview? 5 stars
12/02/04 Santa Makes "Gremlins" look like a classic !!! Bring back Gizmo and Stripe !!! 3 stars
11/30/04 Annie Best Christmas movie since Its a Wonderful Life 5 stars
11/27/04 chris. am i the only person who wasn't horrified by half of this movie?? 3 stars
11/26/04 Linda Jow Need to see it in IMAX 3-D, all t classes of 1st grader in our school loved it! 4 stars
11/22/04 alien assassin Great CGI...shame about the story 3 stars
11/22/04 Kristina Williams The eyes are too....damn...CREEPY!! 1 stars
11/20/04 Naka Nope! 1 stars
11/19/04 Melissa in New York WAY TOO EARLY FOR X-MAS! Drag a friend with you, make snide comments through the movie. 2 stars
11/18/04 Phillip Their eyes..............(shudder) 2 stars
11/18/04 egonz67328@aol.com Awesome! 5 stars
11/18/04 Atom All positive movie. Great. Nothing like the rest of the movies made today. 5 stars
11/16/04 Joesph Markshaft Its really crap the animation was worse than FF Spirits within 1 stars
11/16/04 Cool Leather Jacket bored out of my mind....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz 1 stars
11/15/04 Dunce a slap in the face to *real* animation. ugly, ugly, ugly! 1 stars
11/15/04 April I would rather be shot (and quartered)than have to see this movie again 1 stars
11/15/04 rhody polished turd! 1 stars
11/13/04 Danny 3D version is revolutionary, a different movie 5 stars
11/13/04 Nadia I didn't like it. Could it be because I don't believe? Oh no! 2 stars
11/11/04 Kelly Amazing! Take a ride and believe and laugh and have a blast! best time in a long time! 5 stars
11/11/04 Scott Carter Rotten and only for kids under 3 1 stars
11/11/04 Drew Cosbie GREAT FAMILY FILM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
11/10/04 ted pakozdi incredible 5 stars
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  10-Nov-2004 (G)
  DVD: 22-Nov-2005



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