The Polar Express (film)

The Polar Express (film)
The Polar Express

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Robert Zemeckis
Gary Goetzman
Steve Starkey
William Teitler
Screenplay by Robert Zemeckis
William Broyles Jr.
Based on The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Narrated by Tom Hanks
Starring Daryl Sabara
Nona Gaye
Peter Scolari
Tom Hanks
Music by Score:
Alan Silvestri
Glen Ballard
Cinematography Don Burgess
Robert Presley
Editing by R. Orlando Duenas
Jeremiah O'Driscoll
Studio 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
Country United States
Language English
Budget $165,000,000[1]
Box office $306,003,319[2]

The Polar Express is a 2004 motion capture computer-animated film based on the children's book of the same title by Chris Van Allsburg. Written, produced, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the human characters in the film were animated using live action performance capture technique, with the exception of the waiters who dispense hot chocolate on the train, because their feats were impossible for live actors to achieve. Performance capture technology incorporates the movements of live actors into animated characters. 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 "Hero Girl". The film was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone and Golden Mean, for Warner Bros. The visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studio first released the $170 million film in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on Wednesday, November 10, 2004.



On Christmas Eve, a young boy who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan is hoping for belief in the true spirit of Christmas. He suddenly hears a noise from downstairs and runs to investigate. Seeing a shadow of what appears to be Santa Claus, he soon discovers that it is his parents. He runs back to his room and looks through magazines and encyclopedias for confirmation of Santa Claus and the North Pole, but to no avail. Hearing his parents coming, he runs back to bed and pretends to be asleep while his parents whisper about how he had once stayed up late listening for Santa Claus. About an hour after they leave, a fantasy magic train called The Polar Express pulls up in front of his house. He is invited aboard by the train's mysterious conductor (Tom Hanks) to journey to the North Pole. Though he initially hesitates, he boards the train shortly after it begins its departure.

On the train, the Hero Boy encounters a group of other children who are on their way to see Santa Claus, including a young girl, a know-it-all, and a lonely little boy from Chicago, Illinois who is named Billy. The boy also encounters a mysterious hobo, who lives on the top of the train, as well as Smokey the engineer and Steamer the fireman. They must all overcome a variety of obstacles: At one point, the boy and the hobo ski down the train as it goes down a big mountain, to avoid being hit and presumably knocked off the train by Flattop Tunnel, a tunnel that has only one inch between the roof of the train and the roof of the tunnel. At another point, a herd of caribou blocks the tracks. Later, the cotter pin holding the throttle together breaks in an attempt to slow the train down to avoid erratic driving of the train. The train, now out of control and with the Hero Boy, Hero Girl, and conductor standing on the front, then reaches "Glacier Gulch," an area with steep downhill grades. The three must hold on tightly as the train speeds through Glacier Gulch and onto a frozen lake. The cotter pin of the train's throttle is accidentally swallowed by Steamer while trying to retrieve it. The cotter pin eventually is being ejected from his throat and then falls onto the ice, cracking it, and Smokey replaces the cotter pin with a hairpin. Since the train tracks are frozen under the ice, the conductor must guide the engineer and the fireman towards the other side of the lake as the ice breaks up behind them.

They soon reach the North Pole and find out that Billy is riding alone in the observation (caboose) car does not want to see Santa because he comes from a broken home on the bad side of his hometown and says that Christmas never turns out well for him. The boy and girl run back to try to get him to come along with them, but the Hero Boy accidentally steps on the uncoupling lever and the caboose speeds backwards. The three of them travel from section to section of the North Pole's industrial area, first visiting the Control Center, then the Wrapping Hall, and finally a warehouse before they are airlifted back to the center of the city via airship. As they watch the final preparations for the sleigh, one of the bells fall off. The boy picks it up and shakes it, remembering that the girl could hear a bell earlier when he could not. As before, he cannot hear it. The boy then says he believes in Santa and the spirit of Christmas. He Santa's reflection on the bell, shakes the bell again, and hears its sound at last. He gives the bell back to Santa.

The boy is handpicked by Santa Claus to receive "The First Gift Of Christmas". Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for the beautiful-sounding silver bell (that only believers can hear) which fell from Santa's sleigh. The boy places the bell in the pocket of his robe, and all the children watch as Santa takes off for his yearly deliveries.

The children return to the train, and the conductor punches letters into each ticket. These letters spell some form of advice (such as "Learn," "Lead," or "Believe" for the Know-it-All, Hero Girl, and Hero Boy respectively). As the train leaves, the Hero Boy discovers the pocket of his robe is torn and the bell is missing. His friends suggest they go back outside to find it, but it is too late. He is saddened by the loss of his bell, but is happy when he sees Billy holding up his present at his doorway, indicating that Santa had already visited him. When the train arrives at Hero Boy's house, he says his goodbyes to all of his friends, and waves from the doorway of his home as the train pulls away. On Christmas morning, his sister Sarah finds a small present hidden behind the tree after all the others have been unwrapped. The Hero Boy opens the present and discovers that it is the bell, which Santa had found on the seat of his sleigh. When the Hero Boy rings the bell, both he and Sarah marvel at the beautiful sound; but because their parents neither believe in Santa Claus nor Christmas, they do not hear it. The last line in the movie repeats the same last line from the book:

"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."

The train

The steam locomotive that pulls the Polar Express is modeled after an actual locomotive that is located at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan. The Pere Marquette 1225 Berkshire-type (2-8-4), built in 1941 at the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, OH, was part of the Pere Marquette Railway system before being decommissioned in 1951. Slated for scrapping, it was acquired by Michigan State University (MSU) in 1957 and exhibited on campus.

In 1971, MSU steam enthusiasts commenced the formidable task of restoring the mighty locomotive to operating condition. Restoration was substantially completed in 1985, and in 1988, number 1225 started pulling excursion trains in the Owosso area and around Michigan. The locomotive has been listed on the United States National Register of Historical Places.

In the film, artistic liberty is taken with the appearance of the locomotive and its tender, both being made to seem even more massive than the 794,500 pound (361,136 kilogram) original. Many of the train's sound effects, such as the whistle blowing and steam exhausting, were created from live sampling of number 1225 while in operation. The 1225 even had the words "Polar Express" replacing the "Pere Marquette" on its tender while under promotional contract. However, the right to keep the Polar Express license agreement was lost soon after for undisclosed reasons.


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 center of the city are loosely based on the Pullman Factory located in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago, and the Control Center is based on old Penn Station in New York City.

Cast and characters

The IMAX 3D version

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 motion picture not specially made for IMAX to be presented in this format, and the first to open in IMAX 3D 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 movie. The 3-D version was released to DVD and Blu-ray Disc on October 28, 2008. Both formats include both the 2-D and 3-D versions of the film.[citation needed] it was then rereleased on Blu-ray 3D on November , 16 , 2010

The Polar Express Experience

In November 2007, SeaWorld Orlando debuted the Polar Express Experience, a Motion Simulator ride based around the movie. 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,[3] and is now open annually during the Christmas season. The Polar Express Experience is also now available at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden as a permanent attraction and at Dollywood during the annual Smoky Mountain Christmas event.

From November 27, 2009 until January 3, 2010, Polar Express 4D Experience was also available in Vancouver Aquarium.[4]


The film received mixed reviews on its release, but it has since received a cult following.[5] It earned a rare grade of an "A+" from Cinemascore, a 61 out of 100 critic rating on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews" and a "B" from users at Box Office Mojo. It also has a score of 6.7/10 at the Internet Movie Database. However, the film has a "Rotten" rating of 56% from selected critics with an average rating of 6.4/10, a lower rating of 54% when narrowed down to professional critics, 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 4 out of 4 stars, saying "There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie". Similarily, Ebert's At The Movies co-host Richard Roeper also gave a positive review to the film, 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". Peter Travers said that it was "A failed and lifeless experiment in which everything goes wrong.", and Geoff Pevere stated that "If I were a kid, I'd have nightmares. Come to think of it, I did anyway." The film was generally praised for its stunning visuals, however it was largely criticized for its fake-looking, or "mannequin-like" human characters. Some even compared them to "zombies". 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 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 a IMAX theater average of $35,593, and had a $3,000,000 take since Wednesday. Initially, the movie seemed to be headed towards becoming a box office failure after its first week, due to it 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 improve its gross in the weeks after its premiere. It dropped by only 32.82% in its second weekend, grossing $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 23.75% 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. As of December 11, 2010, with the original release and IMAX re-releases, the film has made $181,507,889 domestically, and $124,140,582 overseas for a total worldwide gross of $305,648,471. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound (Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands and William B. Kaplan), Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Song for "Believe".[6]

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.[7]

See also


External links

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