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The Polar Express (U)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical Trailer; You Look Familiar; A Genuine Ticket To Ride; True Aspirations An Authors Adventure; Josh Groban At The Greek; Behind The Scenes Of Believe; Meet The Snow Angles; Flurry Of Effects Easter Eggs; Polar Express Challenge Kid Game; CDROM Links.

CHRISTMAS extravaganza, The Polar Express, boasts some landmark animation and is based on the classic children's tale by Chris Van Allsburg, but it almost de-rails itself by being too ambitious.

Robert Zemeckis' film, which reunites him with actor, Tom Hanks, is a tale about believing that boldly aims to provide a magical experience for any children watching it.

Yet as impressive as certain moments are, the film cannot escape the Hollywood need to pile on the sentiment, making the journey undertaken by its young children almost as sugar-heavy as the snow.

The story in question finds a young boy (Hanks) preparing to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, determined to prove that the legend of Santa is just a myth.

Instead, he finds himself transported to the North Pole by a magical steam train, The Polar Express, which promises to strengthen his faith about the Christmas spirit.

Along the way, he meets a wise old train conductor (Hanks), a mysterious hobo (Hanks again), several other children (including Nona Gaye's heroic leader and Peter Scolari's lonely boy), and Santa himself (yep, Hanks again!), all of whom contribute to the boys' own journey of self-discovery.

But while the journey does offer plenty of thrills along the way, it falls short of achieving the sort of Christmas classic status that it seems intent on achieving.

Much has been made of the special effects, which are impressive, due to the ground-breaking nature of them.

Zemeckis, working with Sony Pictures Imageworks, has vividly brought the story to life in full CG animation using a new system called performance capture, which allows Hanks' live-action performances to drive the emotions and movements of the digital characters in a way never seen before.

Hence, Hanks can appear in five roles, including that of the boy, simply by dressing in a special skin-tight bodysuit, covered in hundreds of infra-red sensors, which relay the smallest nuance of movement back to a computer, which, in turn, translates it into human motion.

As innovative as the finished product appears, however, the film is probably too long, too earnest and just too sentimental for its own good.

On the plus side, there are some wonderful moments, as you would expect from a Zemeckis-Hanks partnership, such as a sequence involving the flight of a lost ticket, and several of the roller-coaster style train set-pieces.

But too much of the latter part of the film feels laboured, especially when ramming the point home about the importance of Christmas and during some particularly cumbersome songs.

A curious lack of humour also hinders its progress, making things appear far more serious than they really ought to be, while the script fails to match the quality of the effects in terms of ingenuity.

What's more, I couldn't escape the feeling that Raymond Briggs' The Snowman did it all far better in a much shorter space of time.

It's a shame, given the amount of work that has clearly gone into bringing Van Allsburg's tale to the screen, that a film which boasts the tagline 'journey beyond your imagination' couldn't have used a little bit more itself.

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