Book Reviews - CHI Health, Omaha, Nebraska (NE)


The Polar Express

Believe. What a powerful word it is. This is a word that truly takes its meaning to a new level in this wonderful Christmas movie. As a child I remember my parents reading this Chris Van Allsburg classic to me as I drifted to sleep dreaming of all things Christmas. Twenty some years later, it still touches my heart the way it did back then.

The Polar Express is a story based on a little boy who is struggling with the belief of Christmas and the magic therein. It begins with an older man reflecting on a particular Christmas Eve many years past. The boy is lying wide-awake in bed not making a sound. He cannot sleep because he is afraid that what he has read in the encyclopedia and newspaper is true….there really is no such thing as Santa Clause and he definitely does not live in the North Pole. Since he is a little older now, Christmas is getting harder to believe.

At about five minutes to midnight, he hears a loud, clattering noise outside that startles him. He grabs his robe, tearing a hole in one of the pockets, and runs out in the snow to find a huge train pulling up in front of his house. The conductor (Tom Hanks) gets out and invites him to board The Polar Express, which is headed straight to the North Pole.

This is not any ordinary train ride. In fact, it is more of a wild adventure. Throughout his ride he finds companionship with two of the other children, he encounters a homeless spirit who lives on the top of the train, and gets caught up in some very hairy situations. However, when all is said and done, he finds the answers to many of his questions about Christmas and wakes up in his own bed on Christmas morning.

The boy truly wants to believe in Christmas, but just cannot get over the feeling of being tricked into believing. He is at an age where a kid questions everything and seeing is believing. He finally gets his wish in the end when Santa gives him the simple gift of a bell off of the sleigh. The boy knows that if he can hear the bell ring, then his belief is restored. When he hears it ring for the first time, he knows he’ll never doubt Christmas again for as long as he lives.

Director Robert Zemeckis has done a fabulous job of adapting this short children’s book to a 90-minute movie. The animation is absolutely incredible. The characters look like they could just jump right off the screen. Each scene depicts some sort of breathtaking landscape whether it is mountains, forests, or plains. The animators have done their best to replicate Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrations in the book, but of course nothing beats the original.

Some things parents should know about the movie are that there are some intense and frightening moments for young children. There is a sequence that makes you feel as if you are on a roller coaster and could bother those who get motion sickness. Also, some children who are already wrestling with the idea of Christmas may be disturbed, however most will find it more comforting. Parents may want to talk about the lessons each child learns as their ticket is punched. They should talk about the seeing is believing element of the movie and what some things are that we can’t see but believe in as a culture.