The Polar Express (film): Wikis


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The Polar Express

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Robert Zemeckis
Gary Goetzman
Steve Starkey
William Teitler
Debbie Denise
Josh McLaglen
Peter M. Tobyansen
Steven J. Boyd
Tom Hanks
Jack Rapke
Chris Van Allsburg
Written by Robert Zemeckis
William Broyles Jr.
Chris Van Allsburg (Novel)
Starring Daryl Sabara
Tom Hanks
Nona Gaye
Jimmy Bennett
Eddie Deezen
Music by Alan Silvestri
Glen Ballard (songs)
Cinematography Don Burgess
Robert Presley
Editing by R. Orlando Duenas
Jeremiah O'Driscoll
Studio Castle Rock Entertainment
Shangri-La Entertainment
Golden Mean
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s) November 10, 2004 (2004-11-10)
Running time 100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $165 million[1]
Gross revenue $304,946,710[2]

The Polar Express is a 2004 computer-animated film based on the children's book of the same title by Chris Van Allsburg. Written, produced, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the "human" characters in the film were "animated" using "live action" performance capture technique, with the exception of the waiters who dispense hot chocolate on the train, because their feats were impossible for real-life actors to achieve. Performance capture technology incorporates the movements of live actors into animated characters. It stars Daryl Sabara, with Tom Hanks in five distinct roles, including the role of Santa Claus. The film was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone and Golden Mean, for Warner Bros. The visual effects and performance capture was done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studio first released the $170 million film in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on Wednesday, November 10, 2004. It was the last film in which Michael Jeter made a contribution as he had died on March 30, 2003, and the film is dedicated to his memory.



On Christmas Eve in Grand Rapids, Michigan around 1955, a doubtful young boy named Steven (Daryl Sabara) is hoping for belief in the true spirit of Christmas. He suddenly hears some noise from downstairs and runs to investigate. Seeing a shadow of what appears to be Santa Claus, he soon discovers that it is his dad with his sister on his shoulders. He runs back to his room and looks through magazines and encyclopedias for confirmation of Santa Claus and the North Pole, but to no avail. Hearing his parents coming, he runs back to bed and pretends to be asleep while his parents whisper about how he had once stayed up late listening for Santa Claus. An hour and a half after they leave (five minutes to midnight), a magic train called The Polar Express pulls up in front of his house. He is invited aboard by the train's mysterious conductor (Tom Hanks) to journey to the North Pole. Though he initially hesitates, he boards the train after it starts to move.

On the train,Steven encounters a group of other children who are on their way to see Santa Claus, including a young girl named Isabelle, a know-it-all named Lenny and a lonely little boy named Billy. The last is unable to board the departing train until Steven pulls the emergancy brake, incurring the ire of the Conducter, who is obsessed with getting to the Pole on time. Waiters with ridiculously acrobatic movements (perhaps disguised Elves??) serve hot chocolate. However while taking a cup to Billy, Isabelle forgets her ticket, causing Steven to hurry after her with it. Unfortunately the connector between the coaches is freak, disappearing when the Conductor is not present, and the wind blows the ticket out of Steven's hand and is lost. But no ticket of the Express can be lost, and after a series of misadventures among wolves and eagles the ticket gets back in the door when the Conductor is shutting it. But he does not find it, causing him to take Isabelle with him on his rounds as she is now "unticketed". Steven finds the ticket and hurries after them, losing them on the roof. There he encounters a mysterious hobo (Tom Hanks), who lives on the top of the train, a slang-slinging streetwise and almost sinister character, who mocks the popular version of Santa and grills Steven about his "persuasion" on the reality of Santa. He claims jokingly to be king of the Polar Express, "in fact, I am the king of the North Pole!"

Steven's answers being unsatisfactory, the Hobo storms off, leaving Steven under the impression that he is dreaming. But the Hobo returns on skiis and takes him on, to get to the engine and follow Isabelle—a difficult task, as the train is climbing an 85 degree slope. They nearly fall off. As the train thunders down an equally steep descent the Hobo skiis down the train and throws Steven into the coalcar just before a demonic-faced low-roofed tunnel, and vanishes into snow-powder. There Steven finds Isabelle driving the engine while the engineer and fireman (Michael Jeter) are changing the light. The train goes northwards over mountains and seemingly endless cold snowbound boreal pine forest. They must all overcome a variety of obstacles; at one point, a herd of caribou block the tracks. Later, the cotter pin holding the throttle together breaks. The train, now out of control and with Steven , Isabelle (Nona Gaye), and the Conductor standing on the front, then reaches "Glacier Gulch," an area with vertical downhill grades worse than a roller coaster. The three must hold on tightly as the train speeds through Glacier Gulch and onto a frozen lake. The train tracks are frozen under the ice, and as a result, the train shoots out onto the lake. Despite the ice only being a few inches thick the enchanted train doesn't fall through. The ice, fractured by the fallen Cotter pin, begins to break up. The train proceeds to perform an impossible breakneck dash across breaking-up ice before reaching safety.

Steven is trying to stop the others from falling off the tilting deck when he is seized by the Hobo and pulled to safety, and this time witnesses the Hobo's vanishing into snow-powder. Soon after that the forest stops and the line climbs mountains that scrape the moon and travels out onto a great bridge, while the Conductor tells the children of a time when some unseen thing pulled him to safety. Isabelle cries "An angel!" to which the Conductor says dubiously, "Maybe."

As the train travels across the frozen Arctic Ocean, they cross the Arctic Circle and come to the magnetic North Pole, just north of the Arctic Circle. The lonely boy, Billy (Jimmy Bennett), riding alone in the observation car does not want to see Santa (Tom Hanks) because he has come from a broken home on the bad side of his hometown; he says that Christmas does not work out for him. Steven and Isabelle run back to try to get him to come along with them, but Steven steps on the uncoupling lever and the car speeds back to the Roundhouse. The three of them travel from section to section of the North Pole's industrial area, first visiting the Control Center, then the Wrapping Hall, and finally a warehouse before they are airlifted back to the center of the city via air ship. While that, Steven and Isabelle befriend Billy and he is now happy about Christmas. As they watch the final preparations, one bell falls off Santa's sleigh. Steven picks it up and shakes it, remembering that Isabelle could hear a bell earlier when he could not. As before, he can not hear it. Steven then says he believes in Santa and the spirit of Christmas. He then sees Santa's reflection on the bell; he shakes the bell again and hears it at last. He gives the bell back to Santa.

Steven is handpicked by Santa Claus to receive "The First Gift Of Christmas." Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for the beautiful-sounding silver bell (that only believers can hear) which fell from Santa's sleigh. Steven places the bell in the pocket of his robe and all the children watch as Santa takes off for his yearly delivery.

The children return to the train, and the conductor punches letters into each ticket. These letters spell some form of advice (such as "Learn," "Lead," or "Believe" for Lenny and Isabelle and Steven respectively) the special one was Billy's which changes as he flips it (to Rely On, Depend On, Count on). As the train leaves, Steven discovers that the pocket of his robe is torn and the bell is missing. He returns home, saddened by the loss of the bell, and he sadly waves goodbye to his friends, but is cheered up when he sees that Santa had already arrived at Billy's house. On Christmas morning, his sister Sarah finds a small present hidden behind the tree after all the others have been unwrapped. Steven opens the present and discovers that it is the bell, which Santa had found on the seat of his sleigh. When the boy rings the bell, both he and his sister, Sarah, marvel at the beautiful sound; but because their parents no longer believe in Santa Claus or the true magic of Christmas, they do not hear it. The last line in the movie repeats the same last line from the book: "At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."

The train

Though incorrectly identified as a Baldwin locomotive, weighing 456,100 pounds, the steam locomotive that pulls the Polar Express is actually modeled after a Lima locomotive weighing nearly 170 tons more, which is an operating display at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan.

It is capable of performing impossible feats, such as climbing 80 degree hills, descending vertical grades without derailing, going on thin ice without breaking through—as long as the ice remains unbroken—and getting half-submerged in a frozen lake without leaking. One of the tunnels along the way bears the date 1225 over the arch; whether this is intended as a reference to the antiquity of the train or to the engine model is not shown.

The Pere Marquette 1225 Berkshire-type (2-8-4), built in 1941 at the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio, was part of the Pere Marquette Railway system before being decommissioned in 1951. Slated for scrapping, it was acquired by Michigan State University (MSU) in 1957 and exhibited on campus.

Ironically, Baldwin and Lima (by then Lima-Hamilton) merged the same year that that 1225 was decommissioned. The new company, Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, and went out of business a year before the MSU acquisition.

In 1971, MSU steam enthusiasts commenced the formidable task of restoring the mighty locomotive to operating condition. Restoration was substantially completed in 1985, and in 1988, number 1225 started pulling excursion trains in the Owosso area and around Michigan. The locomotive has been listed on the United States National Register of Historical Places.

In the film, artistic liberty is taken with the appearance of the locomotive and its tender, both being made to seem even more massive than the 794,500 pound (360,400 kilogram) original. Many of the train's sound effects, such as the whistle blowing and steam exhausting, were created from live sampling of number 1225 while in operation.


The buildings at the North Pole reference a number of buildings related to American railroading history. The buildings in the square at the center of the city are loosely based on the Pullman Factory located in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago, and the Control Center is based on old Penn Station in New York City.

Cast and characters

The IMAX 3D version

In addition to standard theatrical 35mm format, a 3-D version for IMAX was also released, generated from the same 3-D digital models used for the standard version. It was the first motion picture not specially made for IMAX to be presented in this format, and the first to open in IMAX 3D at the same time as main flat release. The 3-D version out-performed the 2-D version by about 14 to 1. The 3-D IMAX version was released again for the 2005 Holiday season in 66 IMAX theaters and made another $7.5 million prior to Christmas. Due to its financial success, the IMAX version was re-released in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and has become an annual Christmas movie. The 3-D version was released to DVD and Blu-ray Disc on October 28, 2008. Both formats include both the 2-D and 3-D versions of the film.[citation needed]

The Polar Express Experience

In November 2007, SeaWorld Orlando debuted the Polar Express Experience, a Motion Simulator ride based around the movie. The attraction is a temporary replacement for the Wild Arctic attraction. The building housing the attraction was also temporarily re-themed to a railroad station and ride vehicles painted to resemble Polar Express passenger cars. The plot for the ride revolves around a trip to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Guests feel the motion of the locomotive as well as the swinging of the train on ice and feeling of ice crumbling beneath them. The attraction was available until 2008-12-01.[3] The Polar Express Experience is also now available at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden as a permanent attraction.

From November 27, 2009 until January 3, 2010, Polar Express 4D Experience is also available in Vancouver Aquarium.[4]


Currently, the film has a "Rotten" rating of 57% from selected critics with an average rating of 6.4/10, a worse rating of 54% when narrowed down to professional critics, also certifying it as "Rotten", with an average rating of 6.1/10 on Rotten Tomatoes. However the film also has a 61 out of 100 critic rating and a 7.3 out of 10 user rating on Metacritic, both indicating "generally favorable reviews". It also received a "B" from users at Box Office Mojo, has a score of 6.7/10 at the Internet Movie Database, and earned the rare grade of an "A+" from Cinemascore.

It opened at #2, being outgrossed 2-to-1 by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles, and brought in $23,323,463 from approximately 7,000 screens at 3,650 theaters, for a per-theater average of $6,390 and a per-screen average of $3,332 in its opening weekend. It also brought in a total of $30,629,146 since its Wednesday launch. The weekend total also included $2,100,000 from 59 IMAX theaters, for a IMAX theater average of $35,593, and had a $3,000,000 take since Wednesday. Initially, the movie seemed to be headed towards becoming a box office failure after its first week, due to it opening just five days after The Incredibles and 9 days before Disney's National Treasure, and facing even more competition in the coming weeks with Columbia/Revolution's Christmas with the Kranks and Paramount/DreamWorks/Nickelodeon's Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. However, despite the crowded family audience marketplace, it was one of the few films to improve its gross in the weeks after its premiere. It dropped by only 32.82% in its second weekend, grossing $15,668,101, averaging $4,293 from 3,650 venues and boosting the 12-day cumulative to $51,463,282; and, due to the winter theme, saw its gross rise by 23.75% over Thanksgiving weekend, making another $19,389,927, averaging $5,312 from 3,650 venues and raising the 19-day cumulative to $81,479,861. By New Year's Day 2005, The Polar Express ended up grossing nearly $160 million in the United States alone. 25% Of the world gross came from just 82 IMAX 3D theaters. It has been widely noted, however, that much of this latent revenue was due to its status as the only major motion picture available in the IMAX 3D format. As of December 27, 2007, with the original release and IMAX re-releases, the film has made $178,519,973 domestically, and $124,100,000 overseas for a total worldwide gross of $302,619,973. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Song for "Believe".[citation needed]

See also


External links



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