Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Extrava-Christmas: "The Polar Express"

Cinema Won once rode a train.
It wasn't magic.
What's the Story?
    The Polar Express is a 2004 animated pictured directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Flight) based of of the children's book of the same name. It follows Hero Boy (The movie never names it's characters). This is a motion capture film, so the motion capture was done with star Tom Hanks, but the voice of the boy is Josh Hutcherson and Spy Kid Daryl Sabara. Boy doesn't believe in Santa Claus (Tom Hanks), so when the Polar Express shows up at his house, with The Conductor (Tom Hanks) promising to take him to the North Pole. On board, he bonds with Hero Girl (Nona Gaye, Tinashe), Lonely Boy (Peter Scolari, Jimmy Bennett), Know-It-All (Eddie Deezen) and Hobo (Tom Hanks).
Be friends with hobos kids!
That can never go wrong!
What's Wrong with The Polar Express?
     There are some significant problems with The Polar Express. After all, the film is a hour and a half long film based on a 32 page book. The film naturally tries to pad the story in order to hit feature length. This is the film's main problem. The story about a boy and his belief in Santa Claus gets lost in the big, loud scenes meant to keep the kiddies entertained. Do we really need a lengthy scene were the train becomes a rollercoaster? The film is also episodic, with each little story ending and the next beginning. The sequence inside the elves factory stands out as a part in which the majority of it could be cut with little ill effects. In fact, a solid hour of the movie could probably be cut with no effect on the story.
     It also doesn't help that none of the characters are really all that interesting. The boy is so bland and nondescript that it's hard to care about whether or not he believes in Santa. The rest of the characters gamely fill the roles of annoying kid, shy kid, tough girl, yadda yadda yadda. Hanks at least manages to make his roles interesting. Sure, his portrayal of Santa is one of the weakest one ever, but the Conductor is a great character and is still one of my Christmas favorites. The Hobo is cool too, though I wish there were more scenes with him.
    Maybe the fact that the characters aren't all that likable is caused by the often poor animation. This was the first film that tried the ambitious motion capture technique and it's clear that the technology was still a few years away from the film's reach. The characters all drift into the uncanny valley and the rest of the film just doesn't look all that great. The film's portrayal of the North Pole is easily the worst committed to film, looking completely forgettable and dull. However, this does stop the film from engaging in lengthy scene designed only to show off the animation, like when one of the kids tickets flies out one of the train's windows.
    And yet, oddly enough the film works. It's mostly just a mashup of the best parts off other Christmas films, but The Polar Express believes so sincerely in the spirit of Christmas that it's hard not to enjoy it. After all, most of the film is filler, but it's good filler and will keep adults and kids alike entertaining until the film's clever ending. It's nothing particularly special, but hey, well done is well done.
What is it with dead eyes this Christmas?
What is the Verdict?
    The Polar Express is too short a story for this long a movie. The film's story can only film about a half-hour, so the film bulks up the story with adventures taken from other holiday films and lengthy looks at the film's usually weak animation, which causes plenty of unintentional creepiness that will stay with you long after you watch the movie. However, the film believes so wholeheartedly in the Christmas season that it's hard to disagree with it. Overall, The Polar Express is a messy, messy film that kids everywhere will love. Plus, it has Steven Tyler as a singing elf. And isn't that the true meaning of Christmas?
The Polar Express gets 4 plates of milk and cookies out of 6.

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