Monday’s Unpopular Opinion: The Polar Express (2004)

A lot of people who know me will know that I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, I’m a cynic when it comes to films, I don’t like soppy romances and it is difficult to get me to cry at a film that most people would get emotional over (unless an animal gets hurt in it). But that all changes when it comes to Christmas. Christmas was always a big deal in my family, the whole family would get together, open presents, have a big Christmas dinner and party. On Boxing Day we would all sit down to a cooked breakfast. I loved Christmas, and it wasn’t about the presents (though that was a plus), it was about being with my family and laughing, a lot. So, obviously I loved Christmas films, and I still do, even as Christmas becomes inevitably more depressing as the years pass by.

the polar express

The Polar Express (2004) on IMDb
One Christmas film I do not love though, is The Polar Express, and yes it doesn’t rate amazingly well on IMDb, but it is a loved family film, especially by my family. So, I know at least, that I will be pissing my family off with this one. Even Ebert rated this film highly.
That’s not to say I’m not a fan of Robert Zemeckis‘ work, as a child I was a fan of the Back to the Future films, I loved Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1998), I still enjoy Death Becomes Her (1992), Forrest Gump (1994) is a classic and was much-loved by my husband. What Lies Beneath (2000) was one of my earliest experiences of a horror film and it scared the shit out of me. Cast Away (2000) is decent and I liked Beowulf (2007) mainly because Angelina Jolie was in it with very little clothes on (and yes, I know, that isn’t really her body). Obviously Zemeckis felt like venturing into computer animated films, he got it right with Beowulf, he really didn’t with The Polar Express.

polar express

The whole joy of computer animation or animation in general is that you are not confined to reality, the scope and the level of surrealism is not limited by your set or what you can achieve with CGI, so it leaves me asking, why, oh why, did Zemeckis design the North Pole to look like the Gulag? It is truly awful.
Much like in other Christmas films, the reveal of the North Pole is supposed to fill you with joy, wonder, and surprise. Not leave you creeped out and wondering about the elves’ Human Rights, I mean, Elven Rights…
Not only that, but there is a huge issue with how the children are animated. Maybe we are dipping into Uncanny Valley here, maybe Zemeckis couldn’t afford the level of computer animation that they were capable of achieving and that we saw in such films like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (which was made three years earlier). Nevertheless, the children’s cold dead eyes filled me with dread, not Christmas spirit.

Also there was no snow in the North Pole, what were you thinking Zemeckis?

All in all it left me wondering why Zemeckis didn’t make this live action and use the $165,000,000 budget for some impressive CGI, instead of birthing the slave camps of the North Pole.

The film is rife with peril and danger, as a child I would have been frightened, where is the fun in being on a train that has hurtled off the rails, as death potentially draws nearer? Whose that creepy dude riding on the roof of the train? Why are we lost amongst endless streets lined with workhouses? Hey, these elves are douchebags. Why are they marching and chanting? Santa is our fascist leader. Etc, etc…

…Where is the warmth and magic?

When you really pay attention, you start wondering what the hell this film is about, it’s for kids so what is the message, what is the moral, the lesson? I haven’t read the book it was inspired by, but I’m hoping that this was some poor interpretation by Zemeckis and that the shitty morals aren’t in literature form also. When the film concludes it teaches you the true meaning of Christmas, which is presents, obviously. You should know better. It’s not about family and it isn’t about helping others. It doesn’t matter if you are a selfish brat either, Santa has a present for you.
The film only had one good moral to teach, and that was…don’t exclude people from your hellish train trip to Santa’s concentration camps.

I can’t think of a single redeemable feature to this film. To surmise, it is lifeless, souless and truly horrible.


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