|The Polar Express|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Zemeckis|
|Based on||The Polar Express|
by Chris Van Allsburg
|Music by||Alan Silvestri|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$311.3 million|
The Polar Express is a 2004 American computer-animated adventure film based on the 1985 children's book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, who also served as one of the executive producers on the film. Co-written, co-produced and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film features human characters animated using live-action motion capture animation. The film tells the story of a young boy who, on Christmas Eve, sees a mysterious train bound for the North Pole stop outside his window and is invited aboard by its conductor. The boy joins several other children as they embark on a journey to visit Santa Claus preparing for Christmas. The film stars Tom Hanks, who was also one of the film's executive producers, in multiple distinct roles, with Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett and Eddie Deezen in supporting roles. The film also includes a performance by Tinashe at age 9, as the CGI model for the female protagonist.
Castle Rock Entertainment produced the film in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone and Golden Mean Productions for Warner Bros. Pictures, as Castle Rock's first animated film. The visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The film was made with a production budget of $165 million, a record-breaking sum for an animated feature at the time.
The film was released in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on November 10, 2004. It grossed $311.3 million worldwide and was later listed in the 2006 Guinness World Records as the first all-digital capture film. The film also marks Michael Jeter's last acting role before his death, and the film was thus dedicated to his memory.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the night of Christmas Eve, a boy becomes skeptical of the existence of Santa Claus. Struggling to fall asleep, he witnesses a steam locomotive arrive on the street, and goes outside to examine it. The conductor introduces the train as the Polar Express, bound for the North Pole. Initially reluctant, the boy jumps aboard as the train departs.
In a passenger car, he meets a spirited girl and a know-it-all boy. The train picks up a boy named Billy, who also declines to board, but changes his mind, and the boy applies the brakes to allow Billy to board, which is noticed by the conductor. As Billy sits alone in the train's observation car, hot chocolate is served in the passenger car, and the girl stows away a cup for Billy. As she and the conductor cross to the dining car, the boy notices that she left her un-punched ticket, and tries to return it to her, but the wind blows it out of his hand, sending it spiraling towards the wilderness. The train passes through a forest, where a pack of wolves run alongside it. The train carries on, crossing over a viaduct, while the ticket is retrieved by an eagle. The eagle feeds the ticket to its eaglet, but the eaglet coughs and the ticket flies out. The ticket somehow, re-enters the passenger car, but not before the conductor had noticed its absence, and had already escorted the girl to the rear car.
When the know-it-all claims the conductor will throw the girl from the train, the boy recovers the ticket and dashes to the dining car in search of the conductor, climbing onto the roof. He meets a hobo camping on the roof, who offers him coffee and discusses the existence of Santa Claus and ghosts. The hobo skis with the boy along the tops of the cars toward the coal tender, where the hobo disappears right at Flat Top Tunnel. In the locomotive's cab, the boy discovers that the girl has been made to supervise driving the train while the engineers Steamer and Smokey replace the headlight. The boy applies the brakes and the train stops coming across a herd of caribou blocking the tracks. The conductor pulls Smokey's beard, causing him to let out animal-likes noises, and the caribou herd strolls away. The train continues on at extreme speed, and the throttle's split pin shears off, causing the train to accelerate uncontrollably down a 179-degree grade and onto a frozen lake. Smokey uses his hairpin to repair the throttle as the train drifts across the ice to realign with the tracks moments before the ice breaks. The boy returns the girl's ticket for the conductor to punch, and as the three return to the passenger car, where the boy is taunted by an Ebenezer Scrooge marionette puppet controlled by the hobo.
The train arrives at the North Pole, where the conductor announces that one of the passengers will be chosen to receive the first gift of Christmas from Santa himself. Discovering Billy still alone in the observation car, the girl and boy persuade him to come along, but the boy accidentally uncouples the car, sending it back along the line to a railway turntable in Santa's workshop. The children make their way through an elf command center and a gift sorting office before being dumped into a giant sack of presents, where they discover that the know-it-all has stowed away, and the elves escort them out as Santa arrives. A bell flies loose from the galloping reindeer's reins; the boy initially cannot hear it ring, until he finds it within himself to believe. He shows the bell to Santa, who selects him to receive the first gift of Christmas. Santa agrees to let him keep the bell, and the boy places it in his robe pocket.
The rear car is returned to the train as the children board to return home, but the boy discovers that he lost the bell through the hole in his pocket. He returns home and awakens Christmas morning to find a present containing the bell. He and his younger sister Sarah joyfully ring the bell, while their parents, not believing in Santa, lament that the bell is "broken." The boy reflects on his friends and sister growing deaf to the bell as their belief faded. However, the bell still rings for him, as it will "for all who believe."
Hanks optioned the book in 1999 with the hopes of playing the conductor and Santa Claus. One of the conditions of the sale was that the resulting film not be animated. Zemeckis, however, felt that a live-action version was unfeasible, claiming that it "would look awful, and it would be impossible - it would cost $1 billion instead of $160 million." Zemeckis felt that such a version would rob the audience of the art style of the book which he felt was "so much a part of the emotion of the story". In order to keep his vision a new process was created by which actors would be filmed with motion capturing equipment in a black box stage which would then be animated to make the resulting film. Hanks stated that this method of working was "actually a return to a type of acting that acting in films does not allow you to do", comparing the process to performing a play in the round.
Hanks plays five roles in the film including that of a small child (whose voice would later be dubbed in by Daryl Sabara). Initially Zemeckis considered having him play every role but after trying this, Hanks grew exhausted and they whittled down the number.
The buildings at the North Pole refer to a number of buildings related to American railroading history. The buildings in the square at the city's center are loosely based on the Pullman Factory in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood.
The locomotive featured in the film is an American 2-8-4 Berkshire type steam locomotive, with a cowcatcher, modeled after the Pere Marquette 1225, which had spent many years on static display near Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan on the campus of Michigan State University, where Chris Van Allsburg recalled playing on the engine when attending football games as a child.
In July 2002, Warner Bros. approached the engine's owner, the Steam Railroading Institute, to study the engine. The engine in the film is modeled from the PM #1225's drawings and the sounds from recordings made of the 1225 operating under steam. The whistle, however, was taken from Sierra Railway #3.
The film was released on DVD as separated widescreen and full-screen versions in single and two-disc special editions (with bonus features) and on VHS on November 22, 2005, one year after the film came out. It was released on HD-DVD with bonus features in 2006 and on Blu-ray with bonus features on October 30, 2007, both presented in the original widescreen aspect ratio.
The film opened at #2 and earned $23,323,463 from approximately 7,000 screens at 3,650 theaters, for a per-theater average of $6,390 and a per-screen average of $3,332 in its opening weekend. It also brought in a total of $30,629,146 since its Wednesday launch. The weekend total also included $2,100,000 from 59 IMAX theaters, for an IMAX theater average of $35,593, and had a $3,000,000 take since Wednesday. In its second weekend, the film dropped 33%, and grossing $15,668,101, averaging $4,293 from 3,650 venues and boosting the 12-day cumulative gross to $51,463,282. In its third weekend, which was Thanksgiving weekend, the film increased by 24%, earning $19,389,927, averaging $5,312 from 3,650 venues and raising the 19-day cumulative gross to $81,479,861. The film has made $187,224,490 domestically (including IMAX re-releases), and $124,140,582 overseas for a total worldwide gross of $311,365,072, enough to make the film a box office success.
The film had its network television premiere on ABC on December 1, 2006. The airing brought in 13.2 million viewers, winning its timeslot and ranking 20th in the Nielsen ratings that week, according to TVTango.com.
On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 61 out of 100 based on 36 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 56% based on 206 reviews, with an average score of 6.42/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though the movie is visually stunning overall, the animation for the human characters isn't lifelike enough, and the story is padded."The Independent reported in 2011 that the film "is now seen by many as a classic".CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a rare "A+" grade.
Roger Ebert gave the film his highest rating of four stars, saying, "There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie." And "It has a haunting, magical quality ..." Acknowledging comments by other reviewers, Ebert said, "It's a little creepy. Not creepy in an unpleasant way, but in that sneaky, teasing way that lets you know eerie things could happen."Richard Roeper gave a glowing review to the film as well, saying that it "remains true to the book, right down to the bittersweet final image."James Berardinelli gave it a 3.5/4, stating that it is "a delightful tale guaranteed to enthrall viewers of all ages", and ranked it as the 10th best film of 2004, tying with The Incredibles.
The character design and animation were criticized for dipping into the uncanny valley.Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film a 1 out of 4 stars, and called it "a failed and lifeless experiment in which everything goes wrong". Stephanie Zacharek of Salon gave the film 1.5 stars out of 5 and said, "I could probably have tolerated the incessant jitteriness of The Polar Express if the look of it didn't give me the creeps."Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star stated, "If I were a child, I'd have nightmares. Come to think of it, I did anyway."Paul Clinton from CNN called it "at best disconcerting, and at worst, a wee bit horrifying".
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound Editing (Randy Thom and Dennis Leonard), Best Sound Mixing (Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands and William B. Kaplan) and Best Original Song for "Believe" (music and lyrics by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri)
The film has also spawned multiple real-world holiday train-travel experiences based loosely on the film's train journey all over America and the United Kingdom under licence from Rail Events Inc.
These include the Polar Express train ride held at the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel, and the Polar Express Train Ride of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, The Polar Express Train Ride at Aspen Crossing.
The UK's first Polar Express train rides were hosted on the Dartmoor Railway and the Weardale Railway which were both owned by the company British American Railway Services. These services were all diesel hauled, however in 2016 Telford Steam Railway became the first UK line to run the Polar Express with steam which they continue to do so.
In November 2007, SeaWorld Orlando debuted the Polar Express Experience, a motion simulator ride based on the film. The attraction was a temporary replacement for the Wild Arctic attraction. The building housing the attraction was also temporarily re-themed to a railroad station and ride vehicles painted to resemble Polar Express passenger cars. The plot for the ride revolves around a trip to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Guests feel the motion of the locomotive as well as the swinging of the train on ice and feeling of ice crumbling beneath them. The attraction was available until January 1, 2008, and was open annually during the Christmas season. 2015 was the final year of operation for the Polar Express Experience and Wild Arctic has since operated on a year-round schedule.
The 4D film, distributed by SimEx-Iwerks, has been shown at other amusement parks around the world including Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Dollywood (during the annual Smoky Mountain Christmas event), Vancouver Aquarium (2009 -- 2010), and Warner Bros. Movie World (during the White Christmas events in 2010 and 2011).
A video game based on the film was released on November 26, 2004 for GameCube, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 2 and Windows, developed by Blue Tongue Entertainment and published by THQ. The plot of the game is somewhat different than the film version. Within the game, the Ebenezer Scrooge puppet--who is set as the main antagonist of the game--attempts to prevent the children from believing in Santa Claus by stealing their tickets and trying to stop the children from making it to the North Pole.
July 2002: Warner Brothers arranges to use 1225's image in "The Polar Express,"...
The 1225's blueprints were used as the prototype for the locomotive image, and its sounds were used to bring the Polar Express to life.