Based on the popular children’s book by Chris Van Allsberg – The Polar Express has never really been a Christmas classic. Known for its dead-eyed animation style and a Tom Hanks around every corner, The Polar Express details an evening in the lives of several children who are picked up by a train bound for the North Pole. I saw this in theatres back in 2004 and I really enjoyed it then. The roller-coaster train scenes are spectacular on the big screen but, unfortunately, they don’t translate well to home viewing. Without the visual acuity of those scenes it’s difficult not to notice The Polar Express’ many failings. Watching it now all I can think is that The Polar Express looks like a video game. The animation style is distracting and, rather then seeming magical and special – it’s a little creepy. The film also appears to be promoting some kind of ideology about believing and faith but the themes are so muddled that even after multiple viewings I still can’t decipher it.
I’m also unclear on how the film wants us to feel about the scenes in the North Pole. The Santa’s Village of The Polar Express is frightening – a cavernous factory. It reminded me of playing Bioshock: Infinite. Santa himself seems to be worshipped as a god by the elves in a scene reminiscent of the Nuremburg Rally. The kids are supposed to believe in magic – to be filled with wonder and learn about what path to take but it’s, again, unclear how Santa’s creepy village and worshipful elves are meant to support that. There are no moments of genuine emotion in this film, as hard as it tries. It comes close with the sleigh bell in the final act but by then it is too late for this film to redeem itself.
Lex Corbett (@trazism) is a freelance writer & editor of Eye Myth Film. She lives in Toronto, Canada.