‘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.

‘Elf’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

This review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

“Elf” is a movie which, for all intents and purposes, should have no right being as good as it is when you read its plot description. It’s about an adult elf named Buddy (Will Ferrell) who has been raised by elves. He doesn’t seem to realize that he doesn’t really fit in with the rest of elves, as he’s so much bigger than them and not able to perform some of their day-to-day tasks.  He was adopted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) after Santa Claus (Ed Asner) took him in.  Before long, Papa Elf comes clean and tells Buddy his real father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), lives in New York.  Walter never knew he had a son because he was given up for adoption by his birth mother, Susan Wells, before she passed away.

For all his life, all Buddy has known is the North Pole.  He loves Christmas with all his heart and soul without being obnoxious about it. If Christmas ever had an ambassador, it would certainly be Buddy the Elf.  From here, the film has your fish-out-of-water storyline with Buddy, an oversized elf, trying to find his dad in New York and navigate the big city.  It provides for some hilarious moments as no one really notices the fact he’s dressed up like an elf.  It’s New York, after all. People dress up and portray other people all of the time, so he doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  He even ends up being mistaken for an employee at Gimbels.

This is where he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), someone who needs a little bit of a spark in her life as she’s struggling to find happiness and pay her bills. Buddy is the perfect person for her to meet because he’s always in a good mood, filled with Christmas spirit, and knows how to put a smile on her face. He also ends up meeting Walter who, at first, thinks Buddy is absolutely out of his mind.  There is no way he could have had a child thirty years ago, and there is no way it’s a human being who thinks he’s an elf. After taking a DNA test, he ends up finding out that Buddy is indeed his son and introduces him to his wife, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and son Michael (Daniel Tay).

Emily immediately takes a liking to Buddy as he’s thoughtful, kind and a positive soul.  He might make a mess from time-to-time, but he’s so darn lovable that it’s hard to stay mad at him for too long. Michael, on the other hand, is not sure what to make of Buddy as he sees him as embarrassing.  Before long, he sees him as the older brother he never had since they have snowball fights together, and they eventually build a solid bond and connection.  Walter, however, is struggling with his work at a publishing company, and the last thing he needs right now is Buddy the Elf creating drama in his life.

The number one reason “Elf” works is the cast.  Let’s start with Will Ferrell.  This is a performance where he’s totally and completely committed to whatever the film asks him to do.  Sometimes, he needs to play it a little big and over-the-top, and he hits all of the right notes.  In other scenes, he needs to be a little more innocent and naïve, and he nails these aspects of the character.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Buddy the Elf except for Ferrell.  He has the perfect straight man counterpart in James Caan. This is not the type of film you would expect from Caan, but he fits in perfectly as he expresses so much with his face and body language.  Ferrell and Caan produce comedy gold.

One cannot also overlook the great work of Zooey Deschanel.  Her character of Jovie is incredibly sweet, thoughtful and kind to Buddy.  She never judges or thinks less of him.  He also brings out the best in her.  They are perfect together on screen. The same can be said for Mary Steenburgen as she’s always so warm and inviting with all her film performances.  She sees the good in everyone.  There is also solid supporting work from Faizon Love, Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter and Artie Lange. Director Jon Favreau even makes an appearance as a doctor.

That is another aspect which works just right: the direction of Jon Favreau.  The film is driven by interesting characters, and he finds just the right actors to portray them.  He also knows how to get the most out of David Berenbaum’s script.  He really lets it breathe, and there are so many great lines of dialogue which have stood the test of time and are still repeated to this day, nearly twenty years later. This is my wife’s favorite Christmas movie, and I think it might be mine as well as we watch it together every Christmas.  It’s funny, sweet, heartfelt, and it has a heart of gold.  It feels like an adult Christmas film that also knows how to appeal to kids as well, which is not an easy thing to accomplish. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “Elf” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 97 minutes and is rated PG for some mild rude humor and language. The film also comes with a digital copy.

4K Info:  This 4K release is absolutely stunning. It’s truly a visual feast for the eyes.  They have upgraded the film in a way as to where it truly feels like you are in New York around Christmas time.  It has great color tones that are enhanced to the max with HDR.  It really is a treat to watch as it looks so bright and colorful on this format.

Audio Info: The audio formats are DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish. The sound is terrific.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell

Tag Along with Will Ferrell

Film School for Kids

How They Made the North Pole

Lights, Camera, Puffin!

That’s a Wrap…

Kids on Christmas

Deck the Halls

Santa Mania

Christmas in Tinseltown

Fact Track

Focus Points

Elf Karaoke – We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Deck the Halls, Jingle Bells

Theatrical Trailer

Deleted/Alternate Scenes with optional commentary by Director Jon Favreau

Should You Buy It?

If you don’t want to be a cotton headed ninny muggings, you will go out and buy “Elf” on 4K and add it to your Christmas movie collection.  As with almost all of the older films which have been upgraded to 4K from Warner Brothers, they have transported the same special features from the Blu-ray.  However, this is one of the better looking 4K transfers I’ve seen of a film which is nearly twenty-years-old. There is a lot to like with both the audio and visual aspects of the film.  I was really impressed with the audio quality and crispiness of the picture quality.  That is the great thing about 4K—it really gives you a new appreciation for some of your favorite films.  This is a feel-good film, and we need more feel-good films these days, especially with Christmas around the corner.  I highly recommend you pick up the 4K of “Elf.”  You won’t be disappointed!

**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.