“The Polar Express” is a ride to Christmas Enchantment

The Two Gay Geeks and our Staff are taking a much needed break from Thanksgiving through the end of the year, but we still wanted to have content for you to read during that time. As such we got busy and watched all of our favorite holiday videos. Some are classics and others are off-beat and loosely associated with the holidays. We hope you enjoy our offerings and that you holiday season is safe, sane, and satisfying.

It’s Christmas Eve and we see a boy has gone to bed. He no longer has dreams of Christmas magic in his head anymore. Now it’s filled with cynicism and disbelief in magic. And yet part of him hopes to believe. Just as he starts to drift off to sleep something unbelievable happens. A train pulls up in front of his house. It’s the Polar Express and it’s come to take him to the North Pole because he didn’t write a Christmas letter to Santa this year. At first he doesn’t get on board, but that small part of him wants to believe and it’s that small part that makes him jump on at the last minute. He immediately starts to experience things that can only be thought of as magical, from train tickets suddenly appearing in pockets, to one of the most amazing production numbers involving the dispensing of hot chocolate.

As he makes the trip to the North Pole he encounters other children who would later become friends, and during a harrowing walk on the top of the train he meets a mysterious hobo around a campfire who has him thinking that this is all a dream. Then there is the caribou crossing along with the most INTENSE roller coaster type ride imaginable after which they finally reach the North Pole. However the misadventures don’t end there. After the boy and his two friends get separated from the rest of the group they have to find a way to get back to the center of town where Santa will soon appear.

Only the sound of a mysterious sleigh bell seems to direct them in time to the center of Town Square. Once there he has that moment where he has to choose between believing or not. Once he makes that choice do the sleigh bells come alive for him and Santa actually talks to him, followed by some of the other kids on the train, including his two new friends he has made on this journey. For choosing to believe, Santa gives the boy the opportunity to choose the first gift of Christmas, and the boy chooses the sleigh bell. Santa’s sleigh lifts off and the North Pole celebrates with an elvish Steven Tyler leading the singing. Then when it’s time to leave the boy loses the bell, thus dashing his hopes and beliefs in magic, leaving him feeling sad and empty. However, before getting home he witnesses something that rekindles his belief, and just in time for the very next morning he finds the missing bell underneath the Christmas Tree, and it still rings. We then hear the boy’s adult voice saying that even into his old age the bell still rings for him and for all those who believe.

This animated movie tries to accomplish something that many Christmas movies haven’t been able to do for years, and that is to generate that spirit of magic that most of us felt as children. However, for our young boy, it’s not finally arriving at the North Pole Town Square that gets him to that point of believing, but his time on the train, making new friends, and their collective misadventures after getting lost trying to get to the Town Square. It was never the destination that changed him, but the journey he took to get there.

One thing that is unusual about this fantasy movie is the animation. While it does a magnificent job with objects (such as the train) and the world around, the motion capture is a bit odd. It was still relatively new at the time this movie was made, so the characters don’t move in a method that would be considered believable. However, the scenery is so remarkable that for those people who have seen this movie before they will tend to focus their attention on the surroundings and not so much on the people. The action sequences are also breathtaking, especially when the train is basically a runaway while going through Glacier Gulch, where the steepest drop in the world can be found. Here the animation is truly wondrous as we’re presented with a train track that can only be considered to be MILES HIGH as it finally comes speeding down at ridiculous speeds through mountains and canyons only to climb high into the sky again. Only in this film would such a moment actually work.

Then there is the beautiful music by Alan Silvestri. He has always had a knack for writing memorable themes, and here he excels at it. The primary theme, in spite of running throughout the movie, never loses its charm and continually elevates the storytelling to a level that causes one’s heart to skip several beats and reawakens that inner child. At the end of the movie it all comes together with Silvestri’s theme, combined with lyrics by Glen Ballard to create the song “Believe” where Josh Groban then sings it in a way that only he could sing it.

Despite its one shortcoming with the motion capture, The Polar Express is a truly magical movie. My favorite holiday films are those that present something that helps you to believe in something magical and noble, regardless of where it comes from. Christmas has always been about believing in something wondrous and bigger than ourselves, as well as feeling connected to the greater whole of the world around us, and for a family film, The Polar Express succeeds where other films in the last 50 years have failed. The beautiful music, the stunning animation, all brought together with this heartfelt story makes this film a welcome holiday tradition in our home.

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