The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The 11th day of buzzmas | ‘The Polar Express’ highlights childlike wonder, Christmas spirit

Photo courtesy of IMDb
Daryl Sabra, Josh Hutcherson and Tom Hanks in 2004 animated film “The Polar Express.”

**This review contains spoilers.**

If you enjoy watching goofy yet ingenious animation, listening to abrupt musical sequences about hot chocolate, believing in Santa Claus and are also a fan of Tom Hanks, “The Polar Express” should be your favorite Christmas movie. 

Released in 2004, “The Polar Express” begins on Christmas Eve with a young boy named Chris (Tom Hanks) who does not believe in the existence of Santa Claus.  

That night, a magical train donning the name of the Polar Express arrives outside his house. Weary yet intrigued, Chris steps aboard the train and embarks on an extraordinary journey to the North Pole. 

Along the way, we meet a vibrant cast of characters, from a mystifying hobo who dwells on the roof of the train to Eddie, a know-it-all and fellow passenger on the Polar Express, to Billy, a lonely boy with whom Chris ultimately develops a deep bond.

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Through Chris’s interactions, we witness the value of human connection. Our protagonist may be on an individual journey of self-discovery, but the movie emphasizes the importance of every person he meets in shaping his newfound view on Christmas. 

Heartwarming friendships aside, the movie also expertly executes a number of action-packed encounters, such as a tense scene in which the train derails into the icy and perilously fragile surface of a lake.

In that way, “The Polar Express” has something for everyone, whether it be tear-inducing plotlines, precarious situations that leave you on the edge of your seat, jaw-dropping graphics or a banger of a soundtrack. 

The train’s arrival at Chris’s house initiates the viewer into the movie’s otherworldly visual style, a product of the unique fact that “The Polar Express” was the first movie to be created entirely with motion-capture animation.

The innovative naturalism of the animation style contrasts the enchanting mythicality of the scenes that it depicts, making “The Polar Express” a perfect juxtaposition. 

Warm, glowing rays of light shine forth from the train’s carriages and headlights, casting their beams onto the thickly snow-covered suburban street. 

The classic, vintage style of the locomotive is enticingly unfamiliar to a modern audience, an aesthetic all the more enhanced by the steam billowing from the train’s engine and the various creaks of its body as it comes to a shuddering stop.

The mysterious air of the conductor (also Tom Hanks) and the mesmerizing gleam of his handheld lantern add to the enigmatic scene. 

“If I were you, I would think about getting on board,” the conductor says sternly to Chris.

As a viewer, something about the allure of “The Polar Express” draws you in, just as it did to Chris. 

Scenes such as these fill the audience with a sense of childlike wonder and boundless imagination that makes the movie stand out among its counterparts.

“The Polar Express” extends an olive branch to viewers who left their days of believing in Santa Claus behind. It invites them to abandon the grayness of skepticism and experience the colorfulness of belief once more. 

Of course, no praise of “The Polar Express” is complete without mentioning the hot chocolate scene.

“Hot! Hot!/ Ooh, we got it!” begins the song “Hot Chocolate,” as a whirl of servers and cooks gyrate through the aisles of the Polar Express in a gravity-defying choreography of hot chocolate, saucers, teacups, trays and triple-spouted teapots. 

“Here, we’ve only got one rule:/ Never ever let it cool!” the conductor sings gleefully as the children on the train eagerly drink their steaming-hot beverages and sport hot chocolate mustaches. 

The scene blends its electricity with a sense of coziness. The frost on the train’s windows contrasts the blissful satisfaction on the children’s faces as the toasty hot chocolate fills their bellies.

The hot chocolate scene reminds the audience that, deep life lessons about the spirit of Christmas aside, “The Polar Express” strives to do one of the most important things any Christmas movie can do — make you feel good. 

Finally, the Polar Express arrives at the North Pole. 

At long last, and after a few present-related shenanigans in Santa Claus’s factory, Chris comes face to face with the man himself (once again, Tom Hanks).

A bell from Claus’ sleigh falls off and rolls to a stop in front of Chris, a bell whose ring can only be heard by someone who believes in the spirit of Christmas. 

“I believe!” Chris cries out, and eventually hears the yuletide ringing of the sleigh bell. 

The bell is an important symbol for Chris’ renewed belief in Christmas. 

In a pivotal scene, Chris’ father (you guessed it — played by Tom Hanks) and mother ring the bell and are unable to hear its sound, illustrating the all-too-common trend of adults losing the innocent Christmas spirit of their childhoods. 

In the movie’s final moments, the conductor bids farewell to his passengers. He punches personalized messages onto each passenger’s golden ticket as they leave, and on Chris’, he punches in the word — “BELIEVE.” 

“One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going,” the conductor says. “What matters is deciding to get on.”

Just as the adventure of the Polar Express leaves a lasting impact on its passengers, “The Polar Express” leaves the viewer with insightful contemplations on friendship, kindness, self-realization and the sacred power of believing. 

“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them … Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe,” Chris says in the final line of the movie.


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