''The Polar Express'' is TheFilmOfTheBook of the same name by Creator/ChrisVanAllsburg, who served as one of the film's executive producers. In the film/book, a a young boy, straining to hear the silver bells of [[SantaClaus Santa's]] sleigh on Christmas Eve, instead hears a train's whistle. He goes outside to find a magical train, the eponymous Polar Express, which was sent to pick up the boy and hundreds of other children to go the North Pole and Santa's workshop. There, one of the passengers will receive "the first gift of Christmas".

Released in 2004, the film was the very first animated feature to be made entirely with MotionCapture technology. It was directed by Creator/RobertZemeckis with Creator/TomHanks (who also served as an executive producer) doing much of the voice work and performance capture.

!!TheFilmOfTheBook provides examples of:

* AdaptationExpansion: A good deal, seeing as it is a 100 minute long movie, based on a 32-page book that can be read in less than 10 minutes.
* {{Adorkable}}: Hero Boy, especially when he tries the whistle:
-->'''Hero Boy:''' I wanted to do that my whole life!
* ArbitrarySkepticism: The protagonist is doubtful Santa Claus exists, even though ''hes riding a magic train''. Even when he reaches the North Pole which is full of elves and an entire Christmas town he has a hard time believing Santa is in charge.
* AwardBaitSong: "Believe" and perhaps "When Christmas Comes to Town".
* BoringReturnJourney
* BrokenRecord: Quite literally, where the "ding-a-ling" part from "Silver Bells" repeats over and over during one scene.
* CoolTrain: They were dead-on with the Berkshire, and it quickly reveals itself to be a ''magic'' train, upping the cool factor.
* CurseCutShort: "I'll tell you what's grass; our--OW!"
* DeadAllAlong: [[spoiler:The Hobo double-subverts this; he disappears mysteriously after asking the boy if he believes in ghosts, then comes back about a minute later, leaving room for doubt regarding exactly what he is; then, his status as a ghost is finally clarified beyond the shadow of a doubt once he dematerializes at Flat Top Tunnel.]]
** [[spoiler: Well an obvious clue before then is that he managed to make a campfire ''on the top of a speeding train in winter.'']]
** [[spoiler: A deleted scene on the DVD explains how the Hobo lost his life.]]
* EarlyBirdCameo: Ebeneezer Scrooge gets one as a puppet in The Polar Express http://www.slashfilm.com/zemeckis-scrooge-had-a-cameo-in-polar-express/
* ExtremelyShortTimespan: Most of the film takes place in one night. [[LampshadeHanging Lampshaded]] by Know-It-All Boy, by the way.
* FantasyKeepsake: The sleighbell.
* {{Foreshadowing}}:
** This verse in "When Christmas Comes to Town":
-->'''Hero Girl''': When Santa's sleigh bells ring\\
'''Billy''': I listen all around\\
'''Hero Girl''': The herald angels sing\\
'''Billy''': I never hear a sound\\
'''Hero Girl''': And all the dreams of children\\
'''Billy''': Once lost will now be found
** "By the way... do you believe in ghosts?"
* FreezeFrameBonus: In the final scene of the film as the camera zooms in on the bell, if you watch closely you can see Santa's face appear for a moment in the bell's reflection.
* InkSuitActor: Creator/TomHanks and [[Music/{{Aerosmith}} Steven Tyler]].
* JerkWithAHeartOfGold: The Hobo is very rough around the edges, he uses a puppet of Ebeneezer Scrooge to scare the main character, he is also very vague and unhelpful, whenever he answers the kid's questions but he also saves his life on numerous occasions as well
** TricksterMentor: How others see him though. After all how can you answer something about faith when it's your own decision to believe or not. Basically he tells Hero Boy he has to make up his own mind. Yeah the puppet thing was a little mean but it can been seen as giving him a little push. After all it's a once-in-a-lifetime ride and he won't get another chance.
* JustTrainWrong: Sometimes so obvious that it borders on WillingSuspensionOfDisbelief, even if you ignore things like the vehicles bending around a mountain peak or a 100% decline with most likely ice-covered rail surfaces that no adhesion locomotive in the world can possibly climb (the Polar Express has to get back to Michigan somehow, mind you).
** The length of the train keeps varying from five to about a dozen coaches. The inside scenes, however, show a consist of only three cars: the used toys car behind the locomotive, the car with the kids, and the observation car at the end.
** On the ice surface of Glacier Gulch, the engineer seems to steer the Berkshire by rotating the drivers back and forth to control the train's slide, like throwing a ship's propellers into reverse to help with a turn. RuleOfCool is driving the train at this point.
** Averted in that the Berkshire is a real-life locomotive, even with her real-life number. It was obviously too tempting to put Pere Marquette #1225 on a Christmas train. Even the sounds were taken from the real #1225.
** The Know-It-All Kid gives a very accurate technical description...but loses some of his crediility when he refers to the locomotive as an S-3 Class Berkshire, a class never used by the Pere Marquette (more on that on the YMMV page).
** On the other hand, if you want to nitpick, the Pere Marquette N-1 Berkshires, like all small-driver, large-wheelbase locomotives, were used to pull ''freight'' trains.
** Then again, it ''is'' [[AWizardDidIt Santa's train]], so...
* {{Mondegreen}}: An odd example, because the erroneous lyrics are actually sung ''by the artist''. In the AwardBaitSong "Believe," there is a line that says "Hear the melody that's playing." For some reason, there's a version of the song (which has been played on the radio) in which Josh Groban sings this as "Hear the ''lemody'' that's playing."
* MagicHair: When the train is moving at a really fast speed, especially in Glacier Gulch and when the observation car comes loose, Hero Girl's braided hair doesn't blow backwards at all.
* MotionCapture: The first film to use this technique.
* {{Motormouth}}: The Know-It-All.
* NiceJobBreakingItHero:
** The girl left her ticket safely on her seat, which she was going to return to. The boy proceeds to take the ticket to give it to her for some reason and promptly loses it.
** When boarding the observation car to speak to the lonely boy, Hero Boy steps on the lever that holds its coupling, releasing it and sending them downhill through the city out of control.
* NoNameGiven: Most of the characters don't have any names. The subtitles in the DVD and Blu-ray releases even refer to the characters as "Hero Boy", "Hero Girl", "Conductor", etc. The exceptions are Billy the Lonely Boy, the main character's sister Sarah, and of course Santa Claus. Also, [[AllThereInTheManual apparently]] Know-It-All Kid's name is Lenny.
* ObjectTrackingShot: A popular shot showing off the CGI.
* OrWasItADream: During the train ride, the Hero Boy asks the hobo "Are you saying that this all just... a dream?" He replies "You said it, kid! Not me." Later, there's the bell to indicate the experience was real.
** Billy asks "Is it really possible this could all be just a dream?" and the Hero Boy replies quite fervently, "no."
* {{Overcrank}}: During the last verse of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as the bell slowly falls off...
* PovCam: Used a few times, but mostly with Hero Boy. The most epic one is off one of the sleigh bells flying off a rein through the air and landing on the ground before him in slow motion.
* PowerGlows: Subtly used on Santa; it earned him the distinction of appearing "[[{{Narm}} radioactive]]" to some viewers
* ReasonableAuthorityFigure: When an otherwise good kid does one naughty thing at the last minute, the elf in charge of the naughty and nice lists takes pity on him and lets him on the good list anyway, but marks it against him for next year.
* RedHerring: There's a whole song about the hot chocolate and the single rule about it -- "Never-ever let it cool". during the song a girl sets aside a second up of hot chocolate and puts it under her seat to take to another child. There is no "chocolate-cooling" rule breaking involved, though.
* RunawayTrain: After caribou crossing the throttle breaks and the train runs out of control going through glacier gulch at dangerous speeds before ending up on the ice lake.
* SantaClaus: Obviously. The entire point of riding the Polar Express is to travel the North Pole to meet the big guy.
* SceneryPorn: All over the place. ''Especially'' during the scenes at the North Pole.
** The entire scene of Hero Girl's ticket getting blown out the window seems to exist for only this purpose.
* SecretTestOfCharacter: The whole trip seems to be a series of tests of faith (on Santa Claus) for the children, in particular for the protagonist. This is sort of lampshaded in the end, where everyone's role is revealed by the tickets they received.
** The Hobo seems to have played Devil's Advocate (by implying the whole thing was a dream.)
* ShoutOut:
** "I've wanted to do that my whole life!". So did [[Film/BackToTheFuture Doc Brown]].
** Well, both films were directed by the [[Creator/RobertZemeckis same guy]].
*** And in a futher nod to ''Back to the Future'', a flux capacitor can be seen mounted on the locomotive's boiler backhead when the cotter pin shears off. Guess that explains how the train appears to travel inside of a time bubble...
*** The Hobo makes a reference to Charles Dickens novel ''Literature/AChristmasCarol'' by playing with a toy puppet of Ebeneezer Scrooge. He uses the puppet to scare the protagonist, and calls the kid a Scrooge, a doubter, and an unbeliever. This scene crosses into NightmareFuel territory even after its revealed the hobo was just being a JerkAss to scare the main character.
*** That troublesome ticket flaps around in the breeze like the feather from ''ForrestGump''.
* SilentWhisper: When the main character tells Santa what he wants for Christmas.
* SubvertedRhymeEveryOccasion / CurseCutShort: "I'll tell you what's grass! Our-- ow!!!!"
* ThisIsGonnaSuck:
-->'''The Conductor''': Well, considering that we have lost communication with the engineer, and are standing totally exposed on the front of the locomotive, and the train seems to be accelerating, uncontrollably, not to mention that we are headed to Glacier Gulch, which just happens to be the steepest downhill grade in the world, I suggest we all hold on... TIGHTLY!
* ThoseTwoGuys: Smokey and Steamer, the engineers.
* TimeyWimeyBall: Time gets an ... interesting ... treatment here. Almost the entire movie takes place five minutes to midnight, Christmas Eve. The clock only advances to midnight when Santa literally ''warps out'' of his North Pole village.
* WalkIntoCameraObstruction: When Hero Boy uses the train's emergency break, the train's front end almost hits the screen as it comes to a halt.
* WhatHappenedToTheMouse: After the scene with the frozen lake, we never see the two guys from the engine ever again.
* YouExclamation
** First after Hero Boy uses the emergency break to let the Lonely Boy board the train:
-->'''Know-It-All:''' ''[points to Hero Boy]'' He did!
-->'''Conductor:''' You!
** Again when Hero Boy sees Hero Girl in the engine:
-->'''Hero Boy:''' You?! I thought you got thrown off and...you're driving the train?!
-->'''Hero Girl:''' They put me in charge!
* YouSquared: When Hero Boy and the Know-It-All Boy when they find each other in Santa's sack of presents.