The Polar Express (2004)

I want to start by saying that we have a lot to thank Robert Zemeckis for. He wrote and directed Back to the Future, its sequels, and directed the… Back to the Future Saturday morning cartoon? That has to be a typo. Anyway the man is a legend! Buuuuut… holy crap, his animated movies are unpleasant to look at. It also doesn’t help that the story at the heart of The Polar Express is also pretty blah.

Our protagonist is Hero Kid–yes, that’s the real name we are given. He’s starting to doubt whether Santa is real or not and stays up on Christmas Eve to see the jolly old man, but a train shows up outside his house instead. The Conductor of the Polar Express (voiced by Mr. Tom Hanks) is a brusque man who wants everything to go exactly as planned. Hero Kid basically ensures that never happens, whether by pulling the emergency brake to let a boy named Billy on, or by breaking protocol and climbing on top of the train while trying to give Hero Girl (these fucking names) her misplaced ticket. While on the roof he meets a hobo (voiced by Mr. Tom Hanks) who may be a ghost? Actually a deleted scene confirms he is, but shush about that. Other adventures on the train include a roller coaster sequence, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift-ing across breaking ice, and an uncomfortable scene where the Conductor yanks a man’s beard, which causes the guy to scream, which then causes caribou to respond. The train arrives at the North Pole and our protagonists immediately sneak off to check on their presents. This doesn’t really go anywhere and sometime after they meet Santa (voiced by Mr. Tom Hanks). The issue now is that Hero Kid can’t hear the bells adorning the reindeer because they only ring for those who believe in Santa. But then changes his mind and can hear the bells. Easy peasy! He gets a bell as a parting gift and explains through narration from his adult self (voiced by Mr. Tom Hanks) that he never stopped believing in Santa or Christmas magic.

The movie is based off a children’s’ book and from what I can tell it stayed pretty faithful. But many such books are known for fun moments and not so much a coherent plot. So many sequences on the train aren’t necessary and seem to forget that all the other unnamed children exist. The movie also becomes grating at times. One of the main kids is voiced by Eddie Deezen, using the EXACT SAME voice he used when playing Mandark on Dexter’s Laboratory; and if you know the voice, you know it gets old real fast. And then there’s the uncanny valley rendering of the characters… It’s unfair to compare animation in this to Foodfight!, but that movie and its creepy facial expressions kept coming to mind every time one of the children-shaped objects tried to smile.

So you ready for something crazy? I have a theory that nearly all the characters voiced by Tom Hanks in this are all the same person but at different points in his timeline, thanks to Christmas magic and/or time travel. Some real Predestination shit, for sure! Hero Boy grows up while still believing in Santa, a requirement for being the Conductor of the Polar Express. After years of dutiful service the Conductor’s promotion is to become Santa himself. The Hobo, meanwhile, is not a ghost but is instead the product of a broken timeline: either one where the train did not reach its destination, leading to the Conductor being fired, and/or one where Hero Boy never fully believes, thereby never becoming the Conductor. The Hobo’s traveled back in time to ensure that his timeline never happens by saving Hero Boy and ensuring the train isn’t late. But none of that makes sense, right? If only the director was most known for creating a franchise about time travel… or if there was a flux capacitor installed in the train itself… OH, WAIT! BOTH OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE!

Ready for something else crazy? There are 9 actors listed on IMDB as the wolves (uncredited, but still). They’re all voice actors, one of the whom is Bill Farmer, the guy whose done the voice of Goofy since 1987. The wolves never talked, it sounded like actual animal noises were used for them, and their scene was so brief and unimportant that you can easily skip it while summarizing the movie. Were the wolves supposed to talk in a deleted scene I can’t find any details about? Or–and this is the one that keeps me up at night–did they cast nine voice actors to get on their hands and knees in motion capture suits to simulate the wolves running? That would be insane, right? But this movie is all sorts of crazy, so who knows.

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