Film Advent Calendar – Day 21: The Polar Express (2004)

Day 21 of our Film Advent Calendar is one of my go-to movies on the countdown to Christmas. The Polar Express is an excellent holiday book that was turned into an excellent movie.

The Polar Express

Robert Zemeckis is possibly one of the most underrated directors of the modern age. He consistently makes extremely well-made films, and yet not many people know who he is. Over the past 30 years he has brought us films like Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Romancing the Stone, one of my favourite and also a Christmas film Cast Away.

But in 2004 he sought to make an adaptation of the 1985 book The Polar Express. But, in doing so he wanted to pioneer 3D technology and live action motion capture technology. Unfortunately, many people can’t see past the uncanny valley special effects.

However, for me, the film captures everything from the book. We even get lines from the book spoken in the film. Such as:

“They look like the lights of a strange ocean liner sailing on a frozen sea.”


Tom Hanks plays pretty much every character. He plays the Conductor, the hero boy’s father, the hobo and Father Christmas (Santa, but I’m English so it’s Father Christmas). He also does most of the motion capture for the characters. There’s so much effort that has gone into this film.

The story is about a boy who is on the cusp of adulthood where most adults begin to lose their belief in magic. He questions everything, from the fact no life can live in the North Pole, to seeing a Santa hat in his dad’s pocket. It’s a hard time that I remember well! Luckily I know the truth!

At 11.55pm he wakes up and hears a rumbling outside. A large steam train has stopped outside his house. He goes to investigate and discovers that it’s there for him. Where’s it going?

He embarks on a journey to the North Pole and encounters some colourful characters. His belief is tested throughout the journey and it becomes an adventure.

A Great Christmas Movie

Zemeckis adds a lot to the story, but it works in a way that adds to the story. It’s also quite obvious when you watch in 2D that a lot of the scenes were made specifically for 3D.

The Polar Express (2004)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

It’s also quite obvious that Zemeckis loves trains as he re-uses a line from Back to the Future part 3 where Doc uses the train whistle and announces:

I’ve wanted to do that my whole life!

This film is a great Christmas movie. It makes you feel all Christmassy especially when the hero boy finally realised that magic IS real!

There are moments that look bad, like the elves in the North Pole look hideous, but they just add to the quirkyness of the film. The final lines of the film are ripped straight from the book, and well, I can’t do it justice so I’ll just put it here:

“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

I still believe. Do you?

Thank you so much for reading. I want to know what you think of this film. Is it too uncanny valley or do you get that warm fuzzy feeling inside?

We’re almost at the big day so I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Keep reading our Film Advent Calendars!

Nathaniel Jepson

I am the Ultimate Movie Geek and I love movies. I also have a movie based podcast called the Man About a Dog Movie Pod or MAaD Movie Pod.

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