The Polar Express
is a lavishly illustrated children's book by Chris Van Allsburg
in which a young boy, straining to hear the silver bells of 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".
Upon arrival at the Pole, the boy is chosen. When Santa offers to give him anything for a gift, he simply asks for a bell from Santa's sleigh, as they make the most beautiful music he has ever heard. The children all board the Express and hurry over to the boy's seat, asking him to sound the bell. Unfortunately for him, he had placed the bell in a pocket with a hole in it. The children leave the North Pole heartbroken.
On Christmas morning, the boy finds a tiny gift box with a note from Santa reminding him to "fix that hole in your pocket". Inside is the bell, which the boy rings for his family. His sister is enchanted by the music but his parents tell him how sad that it's broken, because they can't hear it. The boy realizes that the only people who can hear the bell's ringing are those who still believe in Santa.
A beloved Christmas classic, in 2004 it was adapted into a full-length motion-capture CG film directed by Robert Zemeckis
with Tom Hanks
providing most of the movements and voice work. This movie, unfortunate as it is, is best remembered for sliding deep into the Uncanny Valley
- Adaptation Expansion: A good deal, seeing as it is based on a 32-page book..
- Award Bait Song: "Believe" and perhaps "When Christmas Comes to Town"
- Boring Return Journey
- Broken Record: Quite literally, where the "ding-a-ling" part from "Silver Bells" repeats over and over during one scene.
- Cool Train: They were dead-on with the Berkshire, and it quickly reveals itself to be a magic train, upping the cool factor.
- Dead All Along: 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.
- A deleted scene on the DVD explains how the Hobo lost his life.
- Extremely Short Timespan: Most of the film takes place in one night. Lampshaded by Know-It-All Boy, by the way.
- Foreshadowing: "By the way... do you believe in ghosts?"
- Ink Suit Actor: Tom Hanks and Steven Tyler.
- Just Train Wrong: Sometimes so obvious that it borders on Willing Suspension of Disbelief, 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. Rule Of Cool 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.
- 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.
- Mondegreen: An odd example, because the erroneous lyrics are actually sung by the artist. In the Award Bait Song "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."
- No Name Given: We never learn any of the characters names.
- Except for Billy the Lonely Boy, the main character's sister, Sarah, and of course Santa Claus. Also, apparently Know-It-All Kid's name is Lenny.
- The subtitles in the DVD and Blu-ray releases even refer to the characters as "Hero Boy", "Hero Girl", "Conductor", etc.
- Object Tracking Shot: A popular shot showing off the CGI.
- Or Was It a Dream?: 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.
- Overcrank: During a song. Therefore, it's an (inadvertent) form of Truck Driver's Gear Change, in which the last verse of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" sounds like Barry White is singing it.
- Power Glows: Subtly used on Santa; it earned him the distinction of appearing "radioactive" to some viewers
- Recursive Adaptation: There were several book of the film releases.
- Santa Claus: Obviously. The entire point of riding the Polar Express is to travel the North Pole to meet the big guy.
- Scenery Porn: All over the place. Especially during the scenes at the North Pole.
- Secret Test of Character: 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.)
- Shout Out: "I've wanted to do that my whole life!". So did Doc Brown.
- Well, both films were directed by the same guy.
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: "I'll tell you what's grass! Our— ow!!!!"
- Talking to Himself: Tom Hanks voiced the father, the conductor, the hobo and Santa.
- Timey Wimey Ball: 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.