WMG / The Polar Express

The other train workers are St. Nicholas's various folkloric companions.
In certain myths of St. Nicholas, he's accompanied by at least one companion on Christmas Eve. Either Knecht Ruprechtnote , Belsnickelnote , or Krampus. The engineer is a very plump man, who could be mistaken for Santa at a distance due to being fat and jolly-looking like the stereotypical image, and always has soot on his face due to working near the engine. The engineer is Ruprecht. The man who shovels coal for the train has extremely long hair draping over his face and an even longer beard, which could be misconstrued as a mask and fur garments. When his beard is pulled, he yells unnaturally loud with a somewhat unsettling expression that would definitely scare kids. He is Belsnickel. Lastly, the Hobo is an eldritch being who seems to test the protagonist's faith and Christmas Spirit, and appears without warning throughout the film as though stalking him. He seems to exclusively appear to those who don't believe in Santa, and comes across as a sort of spiritual judge. The Hobo is Krampus.

The sound of the bell is an ultra high sound.
As a person ages, they become unable to hear the most high-pitched sounds anymore. So that would explain the adults not hearing the sound of the bell. As for why the main character hears it even as an adult, let's say his hearing ability is superhuman.

  • OOO! Good one!
  • It's an interesting theory, but it doesn't explain why the Hero Boy couldn't hear it until after he decided that he believed in Santa Claus, and meant it. Or why, as he says, it rings for everyone else he knows that still truly believes.

The Hobo is Jesus

Perhaps he's a ghost, which could tie into the Holy Spirit. Perhaps he died, but now lives.

Jesus was an unshaven man who had no belongings, was disbelieved by many, and shared a lot. He also saved a lot of people. The Hobo has no belongings but the very basics for survival, and yet shares what belongings he has. Most people don't believe he exists. He's unshaven and dirty, since he's a Hobo. He saved the main character by sharing his "joe" so the boy wouldn't freeze to death, and he saved the conductor.


Hobo: What exactly is... is your persuasion on the Big Man, since you brought him up?
The Boy: Well, I... I want to believe... but...
Hobo: But you don't want to be bamboozled. You don't want to be led down the primrose path! You don't want to be conned or duped. Have the wool pulled over your eyes. Hoodwinked! You don't want to be taken for a ride. Railroaded!
[Hobo puts out fire with the joe]
Hobo: Seeing is believing. Am I right?

Possibly referencing the main character's agnosticism.

The Hobo understands, just as Jesus was filled with fear and doubt before his death (before accepting his fate). "Seeing is believing" refers to the Hobo having seen the "Big Man" (Santa; symbolically God); since the Hero ends up meeting Santa, it seems like the Hobo ends up preaching to him subtly (Parables) and leading him down the right path.

  • The Hobo is a little too mean to be Jesus.

Billy is Dewey.
The reason that Christmas "doesn't work out for him" is that Malcolm, Reese, and Francis have always ruined Christmas for him. Lois hasn't been shown to completely cancel Christmas before, but she's threatened it. Maybe in this Malcolm in the Middle / The Polar Express world, she HAS completely canceled Christmas. Besides, the two have an uncanny resemblance.

The Hobo is Santa Claus himself.
Santa can take on a completely different appearance, and he can be in two places at once. He appears first to the Boy as the Hobo because he knows that the Boy won't believe his true form early on, and is preparing him to believe. This is either weird or awesome, your call.

The movie takes place in the same universe as Galaxy Express 999
The North Pole is not on Earth, it's a different planet entirely. The fact that, for several hours, it's five minutes to midnight refers to North Pole time, which runs slower than Earth time.

A true visit from Santa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
This is why the poor boy never received a gift before the events of the movie, and why the parents don't wonder who puts the presents under the tree. He doesn't deliver to every house every year, but only to a lucky few. Most of the time, the parents put the gifts under the tree. The poor boy's parents didn't do this, so that's why he never got a present before his turn for a Santa gift came up.

The Hobo is Jack Frost
He claims to be the king of the North pole, he can turn into snow, he can be mischievous and kind of a dick at times but isn't actually a bad guy. Most of these traits seem to apply to Jack in other movies.

Not only is the Hobo a ghost, but the conductor, the engineers, and the guys who served the hot chocolate are ghosts as well.
We even hear what could well be the story of the conductor's death. "And yet, I did not fall off this train." It may, quite literally, depend on what you mean by 'I'.

The Conductor is Hero Boy grown up and sent back in time by Santa.

The Conductor has many, many moments when he acts as if he just knows whats going to happen, as if he's seen it before. Why else would he signal the train to leave Hero Boy and Billy? He already knew that they would still make it on.

Add to that, what if Hero Boy's wish to Santa was "to always believe"? Santa would make a grown up who believes his magical train conductor. Time manipulation is obviously at play in the film, why couldn't Santa wait for Hero Boy to grow up, possibly even die, then send him back in time to when the Polar Express came into existence?

This would also explain why the Conductor acts with such indifference to Hero Boy in most of their interactions. How would you treat your disbelieving younger self?

Finally, Tom Hanks is the motion-capture for Hero Boy, the motion-capture/voice of the Conductor and the voice of Hero Boy as an adult narrator at the beginning and end of the film.

The Conductor is a Time Lord

Think about it: The Express has an oddly varying number of cars, it seems to be magic (or Time Lord technology), and it made it be five minutes to midnight for multiple hours. TARDIS, much? And doesn't "The Conductor" sound like a Time Lord name? Hell, he might be Miss Frizzle's brother.

The Polar Express is actually the Milky Way Railway

Think about it: Hero Boy boards this magical train that suddenly appears out of nowhere, like Giovanni did, and goes on this long and very strange journey where almost no time actually seems to pass. At least one of the other passengers on the train is confirmed to be Dead All Along; who's to say that most of the others weren't children who'd recently died and were being given one last Christmas before they moved on? Sure, Hero Boy returns home alive after learning his lesson, but so did Giovanni.

The Polar Express is financed and administrated by American Class I railroads.

The railroads dispatch the train over their tracks, and the cities they go through clear the roads under the guise of roadwork. The only thing the North Pole owns are the coaches. Each year, a different steam locomotive pulls the train. So, one year it could be Pere Marquette 1225, another year it could be Union Pacific 844 or Santa Fe 3751.

Railwaymen not informed about the train's existence spread stories of a ghost train that runs every year on Christmas Eve.