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The Polar Express (2004) – DVD Review


Written by Robert Zemeckis and William Boyle, Jr., based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Tom Hanks, Leslie Zemeckis, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari, Charles Fleischer, and Steven Tyler


  • Never before seen additional song
  • Featurettes: “You Look Familiar: The Many Faces of Tom Hanks,” “A Genuine Ticket to Ride”
  • Profile of author Chris Van Allsburg
  • “I Believe” performed live by Josh Groban
  • Music featurette
  • Game: “Polar Express Challenge”
  • “Meet the Snow Angels: The Moviemaker’s Christmas Memories”
  • THQ PC Game Demo with 2 Playable Levels
  • DVD-ROM weblink

Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Rating: G
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Rent it.

There is a little boy (Hanks/voiced by Daryl Sabara) who is just not convinced that he truly believes in Santa Claus. He wants to believe, but he’s just not sure. Well, it just so happens that the Polar Express shows up at his house on Christmas Eve to take him to the North Pole so he can find out the truth. Along the way, he meets the Conductor (Hanks) and a mysterious hobo (Hanks) and finally, he meets the Big Man himself, Santa Claus (wait for it…Hanks).

This could have been a very good movie. The story is captivating and the visuals are astounding. There’s only one little problem that keeps it from being a very good movie: the digital characters. In some way, they are just a bit frightening. Let me put it like this: live action actors are in no danger of being put out of work after watching this movie. The main problem with the digital characters is their eyes. The animators just couldn’t figure out how to put life behind their eyes and as a result they looked like odd zombie-avatars. Rarely was the scene where you could really believe that the characters were actually focusing on whatever it was they were supposed to be looking at. I just really couldn’t get beyond it. In all other aspects, the movie is astounding. The visuals for the movie are like nothing that you’ve ever seen before…unless you’ve read the book by Van Allsburg.

This double-disc set is a very good representation of the movie. There’s lots of supplimental material to really show off the whole Motion Capture technique that was used to…um…capture these performances…mostly by Hanks. In fact, he was most of the characters in the movie. All of the featurettes in this set appear on the second disc. The first set of features is geared toward kids. It’s a very simplistic look at how the movie was made. It’s great for the kids, but it’s not exactly good for adults. Thankfully, there are some more “adult” featurettes on the disc to help suppliment the movie. There is a great minidocumentary about novelist/illustrator Van Allsburg. Think of it as a five minute interview with Van Allsburg that is illustrated with the various works of art and illustrations that he has done throughout his life. It’s very nicely done.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of organization to the special features in general, because next up is a live concert version of the song “I Believe,” performed by Josh Groban. It’s pretty much like any other music video–it’s cross cut between shots of the performance and shots from the movie–which means it’s next to useless. Next up is more detailed look at the music for the movie, but it does focus on the writing of the song “I Believe.” There’s not much too it other than some interviews with the songwriters and Groban. Whoopee.

Suddenly, there is another child’s game on the DVD called the Polar Express Challenge. It’s a take off of the scene where the train runs off the tracks and onto a lake of ice. It’s your job to get the train back on track by using the arrow keys on your remote control. The game might be fun for kids, but I seriously doubt it; especially for older kids who are already into the gaming consoles. Maybe they’ll play it once out of curiosity, snicker, and never look back.

Then, out of nowhere, is another interview with the filmmakers about their own Christmas experiences in their personal lives. Hanks, Zemeckis and company share their favorite Christmas memories. This is another featurette for the grown-ups, but it’s thrown in just after the game for the kiddos. The futher I got into the featurettes on the disc, the more I wished for some form of organization to the disc. For example, a section dedicated to just the kids and another that is geared more toward the parents would be very cool. The only item that resembles a deleted scene is a musical number that was edited out of the movie performed by the characters Smokey & Steamer. It’s easy to see why this number was cut from the movie, but it’s a shame that it was. Unfortunately, this was the final performance by Michael Jeter who passed away during the making of the movie. Jeter is better remembered for his roles in The Green Mile and The Fisher King (among others) and he will be missed. It’s just a shame that his last performance is a motion capture scene that never made it past the “Michelin Man” stage of animation (watch the special features for an explanation).

Finally, there are two complete levels of the THQ video game on the DVD-ROM portion of this second disc. The game is definitely geared toward younger audiences because it’s just not that exciting. The graphics are nicely done, but the animation for the characters is no more cutting edge than any other game on the market now. It’s seems like it would have been a nice tie-in to have these characters in this game blow all the other games out of the water given the cutting edge technology used in the making of the movie, but I guess they ran out of money and time to make this happen. Alas…

If you’ve not seen the movie, it’s worth renting to see the story. Still, if you’ve got kids around my daughter’s age, you might want to add it to their collection. After all, there are only a few movies and shows nowadays that really capture the spirit of Christmas for younger children and this one definitely does that.

Buy it from Amazon.
Buy the book from Amazon.
Buy the soundtrack from Amazon.
Buy the Game Boy Advance game from Amazon.