Underrated and Overrated: “Polar Express”


Illustration by Amelia Chiarelli

MeJo Liao, Layout Assistant and Staff Writer

When one thinks of Christmas movies, “Polar Express” is sure to come to mind. But for all its popularity, the film falls short on many fronts. People keep it around solely for tradition and not quality.

“Polar Express” begins on Christmas Eve when Hero-Boy (confusingly played by Tom Hanks, Josh Hutcherson and Daryl Sabara) wakes up to find a train outside his house. The conductor (Tom Hanks, again) explains that the train is headed to the North Pole, and the boy dubiously boards. The film goes on to introduce a headstrong Hero-Girl (Nona Gaye, Chantel Valdivieso), Know-It-All boy (Eddie Deezen) and Lonely Boy (Hayden McFarland, Peter Scolari, Matthew Hall, Jimmy Bennett) and accompanies them on their journey to Santa Claus’ workshop.

We can appreciate themes of magic and childhood innocence explored in “Polar Express,” and Tom Hanks does an admirable job as a voice actor in five different roles within the film (despite the fact that the age gap between the roles he plays is more than 50 years). However, this quickly becomes confusing, which is only amplified by the lack of names. This forfeits a lot of the emotional potential within the film and makes it a bland and uninspiring watch.

Most atrociously, the CGI in this film only adds to its already low quality. With its attempt at a half cartoon, half realistic animation style, the film creates an uncanny valley effect — the eerie feeling people experience when seeing figures that somewhat resemble humans — that is terrifying. Every time the holiday season rolls around and “Polar Express” starts playing on TV screens at dentistries, I get flashbacks to my elementary school years when the unnaturally realistic characters gave me nightmares for days.

If you want to enjoy a heartwarming Christmas film with your family, trauma-free, steer clear of this film. If you do want to look on the bright side of things, you could call the film multi-faceted; not only is it a Christmas movie, it can also double as a horror one!