‘The Polar Express’ Movie and 4K UHD Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

It has been eighteen years since I first watched “The Polar Express,” and quite frankly, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect because of the length between viewings.  I remembered the film had stunning visuals and great computer-animated graphics.  However, I did not remember what the film was about or how ir unfolded.  So, in a sense, I was walking into this film as a total newcomer.  It was directed by legendary director Robert Zemeckis, and it reunited him with actor Tom Hanks as they had worked together previously on “Forrest Gump” and “Castaway.” This was clearly a different project for the two of them, but they still were able to produce movie magic on screen.

Hero Boy, one of six characters voiced by Tom Hanks, is starting to wonder if Santa is real as he gets a little older.  He’s even started to put doubts into the head of his younger sister.  His parents have even noticed he’s not staying up all night anymore on Christmas Eve to wait for Santa. This doesn’t bring any joy to Hero Boy, but it’s the reality he’s living in at this point in his life.  His skepticism is put to the test when the Polar Express train arrives outside his house with the Conductor (also voiced by Hanks). The Polar Express will take him directly to the North Pole along with other children on Christmas Eve.

On the train, he meets Hero Girl (Nona Gaye), a young girl who has never, ever stopped believing in Christmas. The Christmas spirit is alive and well with her.  He also meets Know-It-All (Eddie Deezen), and he certainly lives up to his name with his mouth that runs a mile a minute with various facts and statements about trains and Christmas.  Along the way, the Polar Express picks up Billy (Peter Scolari).  He’s shy, lonely, and has had some bad luck on Christmas.  Because of this, he’s struggling to find any joy or satisfaction on Christmas, whatsoever.  Between Hero Boy, Hero Girl, and Billy, they form a friendship and help each other as they try to get to the North Pole.

On the way to the North Pole, there are dancing waiters that bring out hot chocolate (who doesn’t love hot chocolate around the holidays?), a hobo on top of the train (voiced by, you guessed it, Hanks), a mean-spirited puppet (Hanks again), and numerous other trials and tribulations.  Along the way, Hero Boy is starting to think that maybe Santa is real after all and maybe, just maybe, he should start to regain his spirit and believe again.  After all, considering all he has gone through on his way to the North Pole, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that Santa isn’t real.  The things that are happening are so fantastical and so magical, it has to be the work of Santa.

The Polar Express” absolutely blew me away.  The film runs at 100 minutes, and there is not a dull moment to be found here. What I loved most about the film was its ability to make me, as an audience member, feel something.  Even at age thirty-seven, this is a film which had me teary eyed and emotional.  The great thing about this is that none of it was forced.  It all worked out because of the out-of-this-world visuals, the big heart of this film, and the epic direction of Zemeckis.  There is no stone left unturned in this film.  It feels like a big, sweeping epic Christmas story which matters.  It also understands the importance of Christmas and believing.

I love a good old-fashioned Hollywood story told the right way.  That is exactly what “The Polar Express” is, and it gets all of the details right.  At first, the life-like nature of the characters is a little peculiar and even creepy, but before long, it adds to the charm.  I absolutely loved this movie, and it was such a pleasant surprise for me. I have seen a lot of Christmas movies in my lifetime, but very few have captured the grand scale of the event like “The Polar Express.”  Leave it to Hanks and Zemeckis to get it right.  It’s rare that I’m watching a film and I get completely lost in the story.  With each and every adventure, I was captivated and in awe.

This film warmed my heart and made me feel good.  Films like this are rare.  When they are released, they need to be praised, valued and appreciated.  This is a big screen Christmas movie that knows exactly what needs to be done and how to do it.  It’s about tugging at your heartstrings in a way that is not manipulative or cheap.  It is about making us, the audience, believe, without being too corny or silly.  It is about making us smile without ever pandering to us or trying to pull the wool over our eyes. “The Polar Express” is a Christmas classic and my kind of Christmas movie.  I wish I could stand on top of a mountain and scream, “I love this movie!”

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: ‘The Polar Express” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  The film is rated G and has a running time of 100 minutes.  It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

4K Info:  I recommend you watch this film with the lights off.  I noticed a vast improvement in the picture quality when I watched the movie in the dark.  It’s absolutely gorgeous in 4K HDR.  It just added to my enjoyment of the film.  When people talk about films that were made for 4K, they are talking about films like “The Polar Express.”  I couldn’t believe the attention to detail on this transfer.  They really put their heart and soul into the making of this film, and there were times where I was completely and utterly blown away by what I was watching on my TV screen.  It was a work of art.

Audio Info:  The Dolby Atmos track also enhances the viewing experience as it’s a big, booming soundtrack.  For a movie like this, which is a big movie, you expect it to look and sound big.  They accomplished both of those tasks here.

Special Features:

You Look Familiar

A Genuine Ticket to Ride

True Inspirations: An Author’s Adventure

Behind the Scenes of “Believe”

Flurry of Effects

Smokey and Steamer

Josh Groban at the Greek

Meet The Snow Angels

Theatrical Trailer

THQ Game Demo

Should You Buy It?

Yes, yes, and YES.  “The Polar Express” is a top-of-the-line 4K film, and it is also top-of-the-line with its audio and visuals.  Everything here is 4 out of 4 stars, except for the fact that the special features are transferred over from the previous Blu-ray.  Normally, I wouldn’t mind this, but I felt the special features were a little lacking here, and there are so many questions regarding this film and especially the filmmaking process.  I would have loved a commentary track with Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis, for example.  I know it can be hard to track people down these days with so much going on, but for a film of this scale, it would have been worth it.  Despite these minor issues, this film gets the highest recommendation I can give a 4K film.  I was watching it on a day where I was feeling a little down, and it instantly cheered me up.  That is the highest praise I can give to a film.  I don’t feel like enough people talk about “The Polar Express” in the same fashion they do other Christmas films, and they should, because it’s a Christmas classic in every sense of the word.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘The Polar Express’ Deserves More Respect Than Most Christmas Movies Get

The Polar Express movie poster

The Polar Express” was directed by Steven Spielberg’s protégée Robert Zemeckis, and it is based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg which Tom Hanks was a big fan of when he was kid. It involves a boy who is selected along with many other kids to take a train ride to the North Pole and visit Santa Claus and see his intricate operation of present giving. This voyage will have this boy meeting other kids on their way as well as many other characters, most of who are played by Hanks.

That’s right, Hanks plays six different parts in “The Polar Express,” and it has me wondering if this was done to save money on what must have been a very expensive production. Among the parts he plays includes a hobo who may not actually be real, Scrooge, and Santa Claus himself. But the most prominent role he plays in this movie is the Conductor of the Polar Express itself. He’s a man who is constantly running the train on what he says is a “tight schedule,” and he cannot help but be occasionally convinced one of these kids is determined to keep the train from reaching its final destination. He also has this wonderful talent for punching out your tickets to form certain words in them. I mean really! He does it so fast! How does he do it?

The big thing about “The Polar Express” is it is an animated movie by the way of motion capture. This has become a popular way of making movies in an animated fashion as actors where these suits and have these tiny white balls glued to their face and bodies. With the help of computers, which at this point we cannot live without, they can be captured on film and manipulated to look like they are in a place too expensive to build as a set. It is remarkable stuff however, and it could serve as further proof of how actors will never be replaced by technology because we need them to make the technology work effectively. I cannot begin to tell you how relieved this makes me feel.

I was surprised at how much I liked “The Polar Express.” It’s not a perfect movie, but it does have a heart and emotions which are far more genuine than other Christmas movies. It is also exciting as we see the train and its main characters struggle to stay on board as it goes through many treacherous parts in a journey to one of the coldest places on the planet. Seeing it in 3D is a major plus as well because the effects seem so real to where the kids in the audience were literally trying to grasp at the snowflakes falling from the screen. Heck, I even found myself doing this a couple of times.

This is the one thing I want to mention; the audience was full of kids there with their families, and this initially was a problem for me. I saw “Cars” at the El Capitan in Los Angeles when it was released, and it was full of parents completely incapable of keeping their kids quiet throughout the entire movie. Here I am trying to watch one of the weaker movies from the Pixar catalogue, and there’s a little boy right in front of me who cannot get himself to sit down and kept asking his mother for more candy. If you can’t shut your kids up, don’t take them to the movies! Stay at home and watch “Finding Nemo” on DVD. My niece has already seen it hundreds of times to where her parents can recite every line (not that they want to).

But at the same time, seeing these kids get totally sucked into the magic of the movie with the 3D technology was really special. Hearing them talk back to the screen, especially my niece, brought a smile to my face as they got completely caught up in the journey “The Polar Express” took them on. This is the kind of movie you want your kids to see. When it first came out, many found the technology disturbing and scary, but that’s really ridiculous. While it doesn’t look like typical animated movies they loved from their past, it does aim to continue to preserve the innocence none of us are quick to lose.

If there is anything which takes away from the experience of watching “The Polar Express,” it’s the lame ass Glen Ballard song some of the characters sing in one scene which you hear again during the end credits. I am sick and tired of crappy love songs sung and written by white guys. They reek of lameness, and this movie is not even a musical!

Don’t worry about parents telling you about how creepy it is. This one is fine for the whole family. Those who disagree have long since lost the mindset of a child, and that’s just tragic.

* * * ½ out of * * * *