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"The Polar Express"

Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Written by Robert Zemeckis and William Broyles Jr.  Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg.
Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye and Eddie Deezen.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  11/23/04


Why isn't this flick making more money?

During my recent road trip down South, I caught "The Polar Express" with my old friend Beth, her husband and her two kids, and while other families were catching up with "The Spongebob Squarepants Movie" or something really objectionable like "National Treasure", I was sitting in my theater wondering why "The Polar Express" wasn't drawing more family dollars this holiday season.

The movie, based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg, flows real quick-like and gets going in a flash--a little boy (he's never named, but he is voiced by Daryl Sabara, from "Spy Kids") is sitting in bed the night before Christmas; clearly, he's at that fence age where he's starting to think that the whole Santa Claus thing is one big hoax.  He's waiting for his gifts to be placed downstairs but he's about to fall asleep...when, well, a big freakin' train rolls up outside his house.  The little kid runs outside, where he meets the train's conductor (voiced by Tom Hanks), and after a little motivation, hops aboard The Polar Express...destination: The North Pole.  We spend the rest of the ride watching this kid discover what Christmas is really about, along with some other kids that happen to be on this express, a few of whom need a kick in the pants about the whole Christmas thing as well.

From the look of the film to its roller coaster style (quite literally, in a couple of scenes), "The Polar Express" does great work visually, but for someone like me to buy in, the story and the characters really have to work...and for the most part, they do.  Hanks voices something like five other characters in the movie, and from doing a little reading behind how the animation was done, he was the "actor" that does the motion capture for all of his characters PLUS the little boy.  (Yeah, I don't get it either.)  Hanks makes his characters great, although I think Beth's son Sam was so scared by the hobo character that I wondered how other kids would react to the hobo's sometimes-dark approach to the mysteries of Christmas.  The voice acting by the "Hero Girl" (as named in the end credits) is done by Nona Gaye, and she is excellent; Eddie Deezen voices a nasally, bespectacled kid and he, too, is funny when necessary.  The important thing with these characters is that we never get bogged down with their lives, we don't really know them...but, they do enough to remind us of the kids we knew or the kids we used to be, or maybe both.  Right around 10, 11 years old (maybe earlier), you just weren't sure if that Santa guy was real, but wasn't it fun to believe that he was real?  The angle the film takes on all of this once we reach the North Pole is great, and it lets you just kind of sit back and wonder how you thought it all looked, Santa's headquarters, all those elves, how Santa got all of those presents into one big sack.

These dreamy qualities work, mostly.  However, there's a sequence where Hero Girl and another little boy on the train (voiced by Peter Scolari) sing a song in front of the Northern Lights that had me gagging; I was waiting for Quincy Jones to walk into frame and lead a group of kids in a rendition of "We Are the World", it was so ridiculous.  It's tough, when you don't have much to work with (apparently, the book is only 30 pages long), so I'm not sure what I would substitute scenes like this with; another musical number, with the kids getting hot chocolate from the waitstaff on the train, is great, but the other songs don't work as well.  It also seems like we get three or four scenes where the train is running out of control, which I guess was fun for me at the time but now, I'm realizing just how much filler was thrown into these action sequences to keep me busy.  The movie is at its best when we are learning lessons or sitting around appreciating what the holidays are all about...unfortunately, that only fills up about 70 minutes of the film's running time.

Still, "The Polar Express" is a great movie that entertaining the adults and the kids in our group alike.  I'm just surprised that it's not making the mint that most Tom Hanks flicks make, because unlike "The Terminal" and "The Ladykillers", "The Polar Express" is actually pretty good!

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09