The Polar Express (film)

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The Polar Express
Polar express.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Steve Starkey
Robert Zemeckis
Gary Goetzman
William Teitler
Screenplay by Robert Zemeckis
William Broyles, Jr.
Based on The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Starring Tom Hanks
Narrated by Tom Hanks
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography Don Burgess
Robert Presley
Edited by R. Orlando Duenas
Jeremiah O'Driscoll
Castle Rock Entertainment
Shangri-La Entertainment
Golden Mean
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s)
  • October 21, 2004 (2004-10-21) (Chicago)
  • November 10, 2004 (2004-11-10) (United States)
Running time 100 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $165 million[1][2]
Box office $307,514,317[1]

The Polar Express is a 2004 American motion capture computer-animated musical Christmas fantasy film based on the children's book of the same title by Chris Van Allsburg. Written, produced, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film featured human characters animated using live action performance capture technique, with the exception of the dancing waiters who dispense hot chocolate on the train, because their feats were impossible for live actors to achieve. The film stars Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, and Eddie Deezen, with Tom Hanks in six distinct roles. The film also included a performance by Tinashe at age 9, who later gained exposure as a pop singer in 2010, as the CGI-model for the female protagonist. The film was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone and Golden Mean, for Warner Bros. Pictures. The visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studio first released the $165 million film in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on November 10, 2004. The Polar Express is listed in the Guinness World Book of Records in 2006 as the first all-digital capture film. This is Castle Rock Entertainment's first animated film.

This was Michael Jeter's last acting role, and the film was dedicated to his memory.


On Christmas Eve of the late 1950s, a young boy (Daryl Sabara) questions his belief in Santa Claus. While sleeping, a train called the Polar Express stops in front of his house where a conductor (Tom Hanks) tells him that it is headed to the North Pole.

Once aboard, the boy encounters other children, including a young girl, a know-it-all, and eventually a young boy named Billy (Jimmy Bennett). When the children are given hot chocolate the girl hides and saves a cup for Billy who is riding in the observation car. The conductor helps her deliver it. The boy discovers that she left her ticket on the seat. He attempts to bring it to her but loses it in the wind while passing between coaches. The girl returns to find her ticket missing and the boy tells the conductor the truth.

The conductor takes the girl up to the train's roof. The boy finds the ticket back into the train. He grabs it and climbs onto the train's roof to give the ticket to the girl, but sees the conductor's lantern vanish in the darkness. Eventually, he meets a hobo, who claims to be the owner of The Polar Express and king of the North Pole. He gives the boy some coffee, and expresses doubt that Santa exists. With that, the hobo replies that if he is seen, the boy actually believes in Santa. He then helps him follow the girl. They ski down the train roof as it approaches Flat Top Tunnel. The hobo claims that the tunnel's clearance is low, but the boy actually falls into the tender while the hobo disappears.

Once in the engine, the boy finds the girl driving the train while Steamer, the engineer and Smokey, the fireman are trying to repair the train's headlight. Steamer orders the boy to stop when a herd of caribou block the tracks. The conductor gets the caribou to move by pulling Smokey's beard, making him yell. While the train continues, the cotter pin of the throttle slips out during an attempt to slow down the train due to the train accelerating dangerously as it approaches and rides along Glacier Gulch. The train soon reaches a lake that has risen and frozen over the tracks. However, the lost cotter pin pierces the ice and it begins to crack, putting everybody in danger. Smokey immediately repairs the throttle by using his hairpin as a backup cotter pin, and the conductor orders the train to full-speed to get the train to the other side of the lake. They do so, but the cracking ice eventually catches up to them, dropping it back on the tracks just before reaching the other side. During which, the boy hands back the girl's ticket for the conductor to punch.

While heading up a mountain and crossing a bridge, the conductor tells of someone or something that saved him once on Christmas Eve. The girl says it was an angel when the conductor says "Maybe". They head into a carriage full of rotting abused toys. While looking at a Pinocchio puppet, the boy is left behind with the hobo taunting him with an Ebenezer Scrooge puppet that Santa is a bunch of "Hambug". The boy escapes the carriage and goes to the back carriage only to find Billy and the girl singing. The conductor comes out and shows them the northern lights where a glowing city is found in the distance, meaning the train is approaching the North Pole.

Having arrived at the North Pole, the boy and the girl find Billy alone in the observation carriage, not wanting to see Santa. The boy accidentally uncouples the carriage, causing it to speed backwards but it stops at a turntable and the three make their way back to the city square and travel from section to section in the North Pole and make it back to the center of the city in time for Santa's appearance and sleigh preparation as well. While the sleigh is being readied, a bell falls off a harness. The boy picks it up and shakes it after remembering that the girl and Billy could hear a bell earlier when he could not. The boy then says he believes in the spirit of Christmas and finally hears the bell. Santa selects the boy to receive "The First Gift of Christmas".

As the children prepare to head home, the conductor takes their tickets and punches an individual message for each of them (including "Learn", "Depend, Rely, and Count on", "Lead", and "Believe" for the Know-it-All, Billy, the girl, and the boy respectively) and the lost carriage is reattached to the back of the train. Once aboard, the boy discovers that the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. Although saddened by the loss, he realized that Santa has already visited Billy's house. The boy arrives home and the conductor wishes him a Merry Christmas, the kids wave goodbye to him, and the hobo appears on the top roof of the train, and waves goodbye to the boy as he disappears.

On Christmas morning, the boy's sister Sarah finds a small present hidden behind the Christmas tree. The boy opens the present and discovers that it is the bell, which Santa found. When the boy rings the bell, both he and Sarah marvel at its beautiful sound. However, their parents neither believe in Santa Claus nor the spirit of Christmas and do not hear it and claim it to be broken. In the film's last line, the boy, narrating decades later, recites the book's final line:

"At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."


This film marks the final performance of actor Michael Jeter as he died the year before the film's release.
  • Tom Hanks as the Hero Boy (motion-capture only), the Hero Boy's father, the Conductor, the Hobo, Santa Claus, and the Narrator
  • Leslie Zemeckis as Sister Sarah (motion-capture only) and the protagonist's mother
    • Isabella Peregrina as Sister Sarah (voice)
    • Ashly Holloway as Sister Sarah (additional motion-capture)
  • Eddie Deezen as the Know-It-All Kid
  • Nona Gaye as the Hero Girl
    • Tinashe as the Hero Girl (motion capture only)
    • Chantel Valdivieso as the Hero Girl (additional motion-capture)
    • Meagan Moore as the Hero Girl (singing voice)
  • Peter Scolari as Billy the Lonely Boy (motion-capture only)
    • Hayden McFarland as Billy the Lonely Boy (additional motion-capture)
    • Jimmy Bennett as Billy the Lonely Boy (voice)
    • Matthew Hall as Billy the Lonely Boy (singing voice)
  • Dylan Cash as Boy on Train (voice)
  • Brendan King and Andy Pellick as the Pastry Chefs
  • Josh Eli, Rolandas Hendricks, Jon Scott, Sean Scott, Mark Mendonca, Mark Goodman, Gregory Gast, and Gordon Hart as the Waiters
  • Michael Jeter (in his final film role) as Smokey and Steamer (motion-capture only)
  • Chris Coppola as Gus the Toothless Boy and an Elf
  • Connor Matheus as the Toothless Boy (additional motion-capture)
  • Julene Renee as the Red Head Girl and an Elf
  • Phil Fondacaro, Debbie Lee Carrington, Mark Povinelli, and Ed Gale as Elves
  • Charles Fleischer as the Elf General
  • Steven Tyler as the Elf Lieutenant and the Elf Singer
  • Dante Pastula as the Little Boy
  • Eric Newton, Aidan O'Shea, Aaron Hendry, Kevin C. Carr, Bee Jay Joyer, Jena Carpenter, Karine Mauffrey, Beth Carpenter, Bill Forchion, Devin Henderson, and Sagiv Ben-Binyamin as Acrobatic Elves
  • Evan Sabara as a Young Boy



Administration building of the Pullman Palace Car Company

The buildings at the North Pole reference a number of buildings related to American railroading history. The buildings in the square at the city's center are loosely based on the Pullman Factory in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood, and the Control Center is based on the old Penn Station in New York City.

The IMAX 3D version[edit]

In addition to standard theatrical 35mm format, a 3-D version for IMAX was also released, generated from the same 3-D digital models used for the standard version. It was the first film not specially made for IMAX to be presented in this format, and the first to open in IMAX 3-D at the same time as main flat release. The 3-D version out-performed the 2-D version by about 14 to 1. The 3-D IMAX version was released again for the 2005 Holiday season in 66 IMAX theaters and made another $7.5 million prior to Christmas. Due to its financial success, the IMAX version was re-released in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and has become an annual Christmas film. The anaglyph 3-D version was released to DVD and Blu-ray Disc on October 28, 2008. Both formats include both the film's 2-D and 3-D versions.[citation needed] It was then re-released on Blu-ray 3D (stereoscopic) on November 16, 2010 with new cover art.


The film's score was composed by Alan Silvestri. This film marks Silvestri 11th time collaborating with Zemeckis. Other films Silvestri has scored are Cast Away, What Lies Beneath, Contact and Forrest Gump.


The film received mixed to positive reviews on its release; The Independent reported that it "is now seen by many as a classic".[3] It earned a rare grade of an "A+" from Cinemascore and a 61 out of 100 critic rating on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews." However, the film also has a "Rotten" rating of 56% from selected critics with an average rating of 6.4/10, also certifying it as "Rotten," with an average rating of 6.2/10 on Rotten Tomatoes.

On the positive side, Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, his highest rating, saying "There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie." And "It has a haunting, magical quality ..." Acknowledging comments by other reviewers, Ebert said, "It's a little creepy. Not creepy in an unpleasant way, but in that sneaky, teasing way that lets you know eerie things could happen."[4] Similarly, Ebert's At the Movies co-host Richard Roeper gave a glowing review to the film as well, saying that it "remains true to the book, right down to the bittersweet final image." James Berardinelli gave it a good review as well (a 3.5/4), stating that it was "A delightful tale guaranteed to enthrall viewers of all ages." He ranked it as the 10th best film of 2004.

However, many other critics said it was "a failed experiment," and some even said that it "gave them the creeps." The film was generally praised for its stunning visuals; however, it was largely criticized for its fake-looking and "mannequin-like" human characters, which some critics compared to zombies. Giving it 1 star out of 4, Peter Travers went so far as to say that the film was, "A failed and lifeless experiment in which everything goes wrong," and Geoff Pevere stated that "If I were a child, I'd have nightmares. Come to think of it, I did anyway." Paul Clinton from said "Those human characters in the film come across as downright... well, creepy. So The Polar Express is at best disconcerting, and at worst, a wee bit horrifying."

It opened at #2, being outgrossed more than 2 to 1 by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles, and brought in $23,323,463 from approximately 7,000 screens at 3,650 theaters, for a per-theater average of $6,390 and a per-screen average of $3,332 in its opening weekend. It also brought in a total of $30,629,146 since its Wednesday launch. The weekend total also included $2,100,000 from 59 IMAX theaters, for an IMAX theater average of $35,593, and had a $3,000,000 take since Wednesday. Initially, the film seemed to be headed towards becoming a box office failure after its first week, due to its opening just five days after The Incredibles and 9 days before Disney's National Treasure and Paramount/Nickelodeon's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and facing even more competition in the coming weeks with Sony's Christmas with the Kranks and Paramount/DreamWorks/Nickelodeon's Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. However, despite the crowded family audience marketplace, it was one of the few films to drastically improve its gross in the weeks after its opening. It dropped by only 33% in its second weekend, grossing another $15,668,101, averaging $4,293 from 3,650 venues and boosting the 12-day cumulative to $51,463,282; and, due to the winter theme, saw its gross rise by 24% over Thanksgiving weekend, making another $19,389,927, averaging $5,312 from 3,650 venues and raising the 19-day cumulative to $81,479,861. By New Year's Day 2005, The Polar Express ended up grossing nearly $160 million in the United States alone. 25% of the world gross came from just 82 IMAX 3D theaters. It has been widely noted, however, that much of this latent revenue was due to its status as the only major motion picture available in the IMAX 3D format. The film has made $182,704,446 domestically (including IMAX re-releases), and $124,140,582 overseas for a total worldwide gross of $306,845,028.[1]

The film had its network TV premiere on ABC on Friday December 1, 2006. The airing brought in 13.2 million viewers, winning its timeslot and ranking 20th in the Nielsen ratings that week, according to

The American Film Institute nominated The Polar Express for its Top 10 Animated Films list.[5]

Despite mixed reviews from film critics it is considered by many one of the best Christmas films.

Awards and Nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards:

The "Polar Express Experience"[edit]

In November 2007, SeaWorld Orlando debuted the Polar Express Experience, a Motion Simulator ride based around the film. The attraction is a temporary replacement for the Wild Arctic attraction. The building housing the attraction was also temporarily re-themed to a railroad station and ride vehicles painted to resemble Polar Express passenger cars. The plot for the ride revolves around a trip to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Guests feel the motion of the locomotive as well as the swinging of the train on ice and feeling of ice crumbling beneath them. The attraction was available until January 1, 2008,[7] and is now open annually during the Christmas season.

The 4D film, distributed by SimEx-Iwerks, has been shown at other amusement parks around the world including Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Dollywood (during the annual Smoky Mountain Christmas event), Vancouver Aquarium (2009–2010),[8] and Warner Bros. Movie World (during the White Christmas events in 2010 and 2011).

See also[edit]


External links[edit]