Universal The Polar Express

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The Polar Express, based on the beloved children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, is a colourful if rather twee fable about the magic of Christmas. Unfortunately, comparisons with The Incredibles, the festive season's other state-of-the-art computer animated feature, are likely to shunt this vehicle for director Robert Zemeckis and star Tom Hanks into the sidings. One snowy Christmas Eve, an eight-year-old boy (Tom Hanks) lies awake in his bed waiting excitedly for the sound of the bells on Santa's sleigh. Having gathered evidence that Father Christmas is a myth perpetrated by adults (newspaper clippings, magazine articles), Hero Boy desperately wants to believe in the icon of the yuletide season but is afraid that he will be disappointed. At five minutes to midnight, the youngster's bedroom begins to shake as a deafening roar reverberates throughout the neighbourhood. A gleaming steam train rumbles to a halt in front of the house. As Hero Boy races outside, clad only in his pyjamas, slippers and a dressing gown, he is met by The Conductor (Hanks again) who invites him to board the train. Destination: the North Pole. The child nervously takes his place in a carriage with several other excited children, including a spirited girl (Nona Gaye), a bespectacled know-it-all (Eddie Deezen) and a lonely boy (Peter Scolari) from a poor family, who only manages to board the train after Hero Boy pulls the emergency cord. The Conductor is far from pleased by the unexpected delay. The children head through the night towards a magical meeting with elves, Santa Claus and a ghostly Hobo (Hanks... again!) who watches over everyone that travels on The Polar Express. En route, they have to contend with dancing waiters serving bowls of steaming hot chocolate, malfunctioning brakes and perilously icy conditions that threaten to derail the train. From a technical viewpoint, The Polar Express is stunning. Using a new motion capture system called Performance Capture, the actors' live action performances are rendered in digital form, driving the emotions and movements of the computer generated performers. This allows Hanks, who also executive produces the film, to play no less than five different roles, including Hero Boy's father and Santa Claus. The technique brings an added sheen of realism to the characters - limbs have the right sense of weight and inertia, and many of the characters have subtle mannerisms and tics. Unfortunately, their faces look extremely synthetic, creepily so in the case of some of the children and Santa Claus himself with their glassy, soulless eyes. The plot chugs from one big action sequence to the next - a skiing sequence on top of the snow-laden carriages, a breakneck dash through the elf toy factory among them - leaving little time for character development. For Hero Boy and his pint-sized companions, their emotional journey is a hop from A to B, with nothing in between. The Polar Express is bright and simplistic enough to engage young children; older audiences and parents will probably consider disembarking well before the film reaches the North Pole. IMAX cinemas across the country will be screening The Polar Express 3-D, which uses a revolutionary new process so the eye-popping visuals literally leap off the screen. All aboard.

  • Genre: Family Children's Family
  • Cast:Tom Hanks, Nona Gaye, Eddie Deezen.
  • Director:Robert Zemeckis.
  • Country:US
  • Duration:100
  • Release:03/12/2004 (London); 10/12/2004 (nationwide)


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