At the beginning of a Seattle screening of The Polar Express, when the locomotive of the title arrived in cacophonous glory, it frightened a girl—probably four years old—near the front of the theatre. She launched from her seat and fled up the aisle, her flustered mother following along. That dazzling train must have been quite a shock for the little tyke, who was probably accustomed to watching cartoons on the family television.
But when she reached the back door, she could not bring herself to exit. She just wanted to keep her distance until she was sure the train wouldn't run her down. After the characters in the film settled in for their North Pole voyage, while dancing attendants served them hot chocolate, she escaped her mother's patient embrace and edged back down the aisle. She stopped right next to me and stood there for most of the movie, oblivious to the fact that she had become part of the spectacle for the rest of us. Her expression reminded me of the boy in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when he sees UFO lights in the front yard—hypnotized, enthralled, and delighted.
Based on an exquisite storybook by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express comes to us from Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis has transported us to other times (Back to the Future); to exotic and remote destinations (Cast Away); and through groundbreaking advances in animation technology (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). In this film, he takes us to all three: a simpler time, a far-off and frozen place, and an animated exhibition that glows like a forest of illuminated Christmas trees and roars like … well … like a passing train.
Zemeckis inventively converts the simple storybook into a full-length feature without excessive plotting. ...1