The Outing of Christmas Doubt

“Santa, no offense, but I’d prefer a gift from Oprah instead.”

Santa Claus is hard to define. Our perception of him, along with Christmas itself, changes every year. We’ve come to know him as plump, and later realized he’s even bigger than imagined. He has come to represent too many things during the Holidays. The question – Do you believe in Santa Claus? – requires a simple answer of yes or no, but nevertheless, it is thought of with complexity.

“The Polar Express” is about a doubting boy who might answer no to the posed question. The night before Christmas, the Polar Express train pulls up in front of his house and the train conductor offers him a trip to Santa’s famed home base: the North Pole. The boy – who just researched that the North Pole is devoid of life – initially declines, but jumps aboard out of curiosity. Inside the locomotive, he discovers the passengers to be kids too and befriends a couple of them: a poor boy, whom Santa Claus has neglected in past Christmases, and a gutsy girl who’s sure the “magic” train is real.

Is it really a “magic” train? Well, why not? The Polar Express is strange enough to make one curious, especially when waiters, who serve hot chocolate, dance with precise choreography. But the magic isn’t always light on charm. Most of the time, it’s foreboding in taste; there’s no sense of security. There are instances where the train accelerates on rollercoaster-like tracks or at one point, no tracks at all. But hey, a journey can’t be called an adventure without a real sense of danger.

“The Polar Express” is one entrancing ride and I wouldn’t mind being onboard every Christmas. The animation, looking crisp and simple, resembles the book’s beautiful illustrations. For a Holiday picture – it is neither hurts-your-teeth sweet nor attention-deficit manic. It’s somber, nostalgic, thrilling, uplifting, and yes, magical. At the bookstore, the other day, I was amazed to find the adapted book to be thin. Yet filmmaker Zemeckis and company managed to create a full-length loco-motion picture, with a memorable lullaby score by Alan Silvestri and well-integrated “performance capture” by Tom Hanks.

I like that the movie isn’t so darn obvious, which may irk kids who are accustomed to answers handed on a platter. I won’t be surprised if tots will be baffled, though they’ll probably remember the movie when they reach a cynical age. For the rest of us, who have matured, it is still a little challenging. After everything that we experienced, innocence isn’t easily restored. I know “The Polar Express” is all about believing, but I couldn’t help but think that doubt isn’t all that bad. It’s part of growing up. It’s perfectly natural to question things. I’m afraid kids might not get that from the movie. And if the movie is ultimately about restoration of faith and belief – “The Polar Express” can arguably be more appropriate for adults – since that’s the demographic that’s in need more of believing.

Grade: A

Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, Eddie Deezen, Peter Scolari, Michael Jeter, Andre Sogliuzzo, Isabella Peregrina, Leslie Zemeckis, Charles Fleischer, Steven Tyler
Screenplay by
Robert Zemeckis and William Broyles Jr.
Based on the book by
Chris Van Allsburg
Directed by
Robert Zemeckis
Rated G