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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Polar Express

Beloved book brought to the screen with dazzling digital images

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 18, 2004 -- This is a low-key animated Christmas movie based on the popular children's book. The artwork is beautiful, there are some good songs, and it is a pretty good Christmas story, but is no classic, as some have claimed. Give me “Miracle on 34th Street” any day of Christmas week over this film, or “The Santa Clause” for that matter.

The story concerns a youngster, (voice by Daryl Sabara), who doubts the existence of Santa Claus. A mysterious train stops by his house on Christmas Eve, the conductor (voice by Tom Hanks) says this train will take him to the North Pole. The purpose of this train seems to be to provide proof to people who doubt the existence of Santa. The boy also learns some lessons about the spirit of Christmas and life and he and a young girl on the train combine to help a young boy from the poor side of town get on the train and get his first Christmas present.

The plot keeps you guessing about what happens next, as a series of unexpected twists keeps the story from getting stale and predictable. The story is also rich with characters, including a mysterious hobo who rides on the train's roof, a know-it-all nerdling boy who lacks humility, and a young girl who is a born leader. Pioneering use of motion capture digital animation produces characters that are essentially lifeless. The lack of real emotions from the characters diminishes the power of the story. Santa Claus doesn't even smile!

Despite all that, the story is strong enough to maintain the interest of the audience. The images are beautiful and the music is excellent. A haunting ballad, “Believe,” sung by vocalist Josh Groban and written by Glen Ballard, is a show-stopper. There is also a lively song, “Hot Chocolate,” performed by Tom Hanks during a scene when the children are served hot chocolate drinks by a troupe of acrobatic singing, dancing waiters. Not a bad Christmas movie. It rates a C+.

The film is directed by Robert Zemeckis (“Cast Away”) and is written by Zemeckis and William Broyles Jr. (“Apollo 13”). I saw this film in a standard movie theater set up. There is also an IMAX 3-D version of this movie in release. I've seen some IMAX 3-D films before, and the three-dimensional effect is excellent. This would give the viewer a much different experience than the one I had. There are some dynamic scenes in the film, much like a roller coaster ride, that would be much more effective in a 3-D presentation.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)