Christmas Classics: ‘The Polar Express’



Graphic by Saaraa Sunesara

‘The Polar Express’ (2004) has captured the hearts of younger and older viewers alike with it’s meaningful message.

The Polar Express, an undeniable holiday classic, has been capturing attention of all ages since its release in 2004. The suspense-packed plot in addition to lifelike graphics and timeless humor keep viewers on the edge of their seats, no matter how many times they’ve seen it before. The film manages to keep the theme closely focused on believing in what may seem impossible, regardless of what others have to say. In fact, the movie is wrapped up around belief in a sweet, tear-jerking manner. This leaves viewers emotional when it ends, encouraging them to take the film’s message to heart.

Unbeknownst to me until writing this review, none of the main characters actually have names. Instead, they are referred to as Hero Boy, Hero Girl, Conductor, and Know-It-All (the boy in the glasses and yellow sweater). The only character who is actually named is Billy, the lonely boy in the last train car. “Christmas just doesn’t work out” for Billy, as he is underprivileged and doesn’t typically receive gifts. Some may argue that the writers made this decision so young viewers put themselves in the place of the characters and hopefully take the movie personally. Although I believe the lack of names is meaningless to the plot, the captivating ability to distract viewers from such a large detail is admittedly impressive. This could only be achieved with a movie as high energy as The Polar Express.

The movie begins focused around Hero Boy, during the most crucial year regarding his Christmas spirit. The Polar Express train picks up children who have some type of issue with Christmas and takes them on a perilous journey to the North Pole. About the first third of the movie is the fateful train ride, despite the fact that the journey home lasts approximately 10 seconds. Once they arrive at the epicenter of Christmas (the North Pole), the three main characters unsurprisingly get separated from the rest of the group and have to navigate through Santa’s Workshop, sparking another high intensity journey with even more turbulent tracks. In fact, the visuals got so dizzying that I had to look away from one scene. The trio is literally stuck in the middle of the action, buried up to their necks in presents and holiday spirit. Santa delivers the first present of the night to one of the children on the train, and the idea of belief is turned upside down in a classic Christmas miracle. In the midst of all the action, Hero Boy loses something very important to him, but learns quickly that magic only works for those who believe in it.

Intense and suspenseful scenes of the dangerous journey are broken up by artistic, surreal nature shots of the scenery and silly, magical occurrences included to keep children entertained. The sound in this film is seamlessly incorporated into the mood of each scene. In quiet, high-suspense scenes, every little footstep or gust of wind is amplified to create an environment of deafening silence. On the other hand, there are plenty of nostalgic, wondrous Christmas tunes which sound pretty cliché, but nonetheless cheery.

Undoubtedly impressive, the animation of the children and surrounding setting adds a strong sense of reality to the story. While some elements of the movie are shockingly lifelike, there are only about four different faces that were animated for the elves. I like to imagine that this detail may have been purposeful, emphasizing the giant number of elves present and how similar they all are. The elves themselves really do act as one unstoppable force, saving Christmas more than once before Santa’s liftoff.

One of my favorite details about the movie is the children’s magic train tickets. As they board the train, the tickets magically appear in their pockets, only to have cryptic letters punched into them by the wiry conductor. On the ride home, before departure from the North Pole, the conductor finishes punching the kids’ tickets to reveal lessons they have learned while on the journey. Some of these lessons include “lead,” “depend on,” and “believe.” These strange tickets actually made no appearance in The Polar Express, the book which the movie is based off of. However, the symbolism of the tickets adds another dream-like element to the movie, reinforcing the overall theme of belief.

The Polar Express is a rare occurrence of a Christmas movie that will completely absorb children and adults alike. The film is not only action-packed and wildly exciting, but also filled with symbolism, foreshadowing, and hidden jokes targeted towards older generations. It is truly a movie designed for the whole family, packed with emotion and something for everyone to enjoy.