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The Polar Express is a 2004 American 3D computer-animated film based on the 1985 children's book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, who also served as one of the executive producers on the film. Directed, co-written and co-produced by Robert Zemeckis, the film features human characters animated using live action motion capture animation. The film tells the story of a young boy who, on Christmas Eve, sees a mysterious train bound for the North Pole stop outside his window and is invited aboard by its conductor. The boy joins several other children as they embark on a journey to visit Santa Claus preparing for Christmas.

The Polar Express
The Polar Express (2004) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Zemeckis
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onThe Polar Express
by Chris Van Allsburg
Music byAlan Silvestri
Edited by
  • R. Orlando Duenas
  • Jeremiah O'Driscoll
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures[1]
Release date
Running time
100 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$165 million[2][3]
Box office$311.3 million[2]

The film stars Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, and Eddie Deezen, with Tom Hanks in six distinct roles. The film also included a performance by Tinashe at age 9, as the CGI-model for the female protagonist.

Castle Rock Entertainment produced the film in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone, and Golden Mean for Warner Bros. Pictures, as Castle Rock's first animated production. The visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The film was made with a budget of $165 million, a record-breaking sum for an animated feature at the time.

The film was released in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on November 10, 2004. It grossed $311.3 million worldwide, and was later listed in the 2006 Guinness World Records as the first all-digital capture film. The film also marks Michael Jeter's last acting role before his death, and the film was thus dedicated to his memory.[4]



In Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the night of Christmas Eve in the 1950s, a boy is growing bitterly skeptical of the existence of Santa Claus. As he struggles to sleep, he witnesses the arrival of a steam locomotive on the street outside his home, and dons his robe to investigate, tearing the robe's pocket as he retrieves it. Outside, the train's conductor introduces the train as the Polar Express, bound for the North Pole. The boy initially declines to board, but jumps aboard the train as it pulls away.

In a passenger car, he befriends a spirited and amicable girl, and a condescending know-it-all boy. The train stops to pick up an impoverished child, Billy, who also declines to board; Billy changes his mind, and the boy applies the brakes to allow him to board, which attracts the conductor. As Billy sits alone in the train's rear dining car, hot chocolate is served in the passenger car, and the girl saves her hot chocolate for Billy. As she and the conductor cross to the dining car, the boy notices she left her ticket behind unpunched, but loses hold of the ticket between the cars when he attempts to return it. The ticket reenters the passenger car, but not before the conductor notices its absence and escorts the girl back to the rear car.

The know-it-all claims that the conductor will throw the girl from the back of the train; the boy recovers the ticket and dashes to the dining car in search of the conductor, climbing onto the roof from the rear platform. He meets a hobo camping on the roof, who offers him coffee and discusses the existence of Santa Claus and belief in ghosts. The hobo skis with the boy along the tops of the cars towards the train's coal tender, where the hobo disappears. In the locomotive's cab, the boy discovers that the girl has been made to supervise driving the train while engineers Steamer and Smokey replace the train's headlight. The boy applies the brakes, and the train stops while the conductor witnesses a herd of caribou that is blocking their way, The conductor pulls Smokey's beard, causing him to let out animal-likes noises, therefore clearing the caribou horde. The train continues on, but at extreme speed. The throttle's split pin sheers off, causing the train to accelerate uncontrollably down a 179-degree grade and onto a frozen lake. Smokey uses his hairpin to repair the throttle as the train drifts across the ice to realign with the tracks moments before the ice breaks. The boy returns the girl's ticket for the conductor to punch, and as the three return to the passenger car, the boy is accosted by an Ebenezer Scrooge marionette, taunting him and calling him a doubter, in reality controlled by the hobo.

The train finally arrives at the North Pole, where the conductor announces that one of the passengers will be chosen to receive the first gift of Christmas, from Santa himself. The girl discovers Billy still alone in the rear car, and she and the boy persuade him to come along; however, the boy accidentally unhitches the car, sending it back along the line to a railway turntable in Santa's workshop. The children sneak through an elf command center and a gift sorting office before accidentally being dumped into a giant sack full of presents, where they discover that the know-it-all kid stowed away. The elves escort them out as Santa arrives. A jingle bell flies loose from the galloping reindeers' reins; the boy initially cannot hear it ring, until he finds it within himself to believe. He shows the bell to Santa, and Santa selects the boy to receive the bell as the first gift of Christmas. The boy asks to keep the jingle bell, Santa says yes, and he places it in his robe pocket.

The wayward rear car is returned to the train as the children board to return home, but then the boy discovers that he had lost the bell through the hole in his robe pocket. He returns home and awakens Christmas morning to find a present containing the bell. He and his younger sister Sarah ring the bell to their delight; their parents, not believing in Santa, lament how the bell is "broken." As an adult, the boy reflects on how his friends and his sister grew deaf to the bell as their belief faded over the years. However, the bell still rings for him, as it will do for all those who believe.


This film marks the final performance of actor Michael Jeter; Jeter died the year before the film's release.
  • Tom Hanks as Hero Boy (motion-capture only), Hero Boy's father, Conductor, Hobo, Scrooge puppet, Santa Claus, and the Narrator
  • Leslie Zemeckis as Sister Sarah (motion-capture only) and Hero Boy's mother
    • Isabella Peregrina as Sister Sarah (voice)
    • Ashly Holloway as Sister Sarah (additional motion-capture)
  • Eddie Deezen as Know-It-All
  • Nona Gaye as Hero Girl
    • Chantel Valdivieso as Hero Girl (additional motion-capture)
    • Meagan Moore as Hero Girl (singing voice)
    • Tinashe as Hero Girl (motion-capture modeling)
  • Peter Scolari as Billy the Lonely Boy (motion-capture only)
    • Hayden McFarland as Billy the Lonely Boy (additional motion-capture)
    • Jimmy Bennett as Billy the Lonely Boy (voice)
    • Matthew Hall as Billy the Lonely Boy (singing voice)
  • Dylan Cash as Boy on Train (voice)
  • Brendan King and Andy Pellick as Pastry Chefs
  • Josh Eli, Rolandas Hendricks, Jon Scott, Sean Scott, Mark Mendonca, Mark Goodman, Gregory Gast, and Gordon Hart as Waiters
  • Andre Sogliuzzo as Smokey and Steamer (voice)
  • Chris Coppola as Gus the Toothless Boy and an Elf
    • Connor Matheus as Toothless Boy (additional motion-capture)
  • Julene Renee as Red Head Girl and an Elf
  • Phil Fondacaro, Debbie Lee Carrington, Mark Povinelli, and Ed Gale as Elves
  • Charles Fleischer as Elf General
  • Steven Tyler as Elf Lieutenant and Elf Singer
  • Dante Pastula as Little Boy
  • Eric Newton, Aidan O'Shea, Aaron Hendry, Kevin C. Carr, Bee Jay Joyer, Jena Carpenter, Karine Mauffrey, Beth Carpenter, Bill Forchion, Devin Henderson, and Sagiv Ben-Binyamin as Acrobatic Elves
  • Evan Sabara as a Young Boy (additional motion-capture)



Administration building of the Pullman Palace Car Company

The buildings at the North Pole refer to a number of buildings related to American railroading history. The buildings in the square at the city's center are loosely based on the Pullman Factory in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood.[5]

Polar Express LocomotiveEdit

Pere Marquette locomotive 1225, the basis for the Polar Express.

The locomotive featured in the film is an American 2-8-4 Berkshire type steam locomotive, with a cowcatcher, modeled after the Pere Marquette 1225, which had spent many years on static display near Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan on the campus of Michigan State University, where Chris Van Allsburg recalled playing on the engine when attending football games as a child.[6]

In July 2002, Warner Bros. approached the engine's owner, the Steam Railroading Institute, to study the engine.[7] The engine in the film is modeled from the PM #1225's drawings and the sounds from recordings made of the 1225 operating under steam.[8] The whistle, however, was taken from Sierra Railway #3.[citation needed]

IMAX 3D versionEdit

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.[9]

Home media releaseEdit

The film was released on DVD as separated widescreen and full-screen versions in single and two-disc special editions (with bonus features) and on VHS on November 22, 2005, one year after the film came out.[10] It was released on Blu-ray with bonus features and presented in the original widescreen aspect ratio on October 30, 2007.


Performer(s) Title Length
Tom Hanks "The Polar Express" 3:25
Matthew Hall & Meagan Moore "When Christmas Comes to Town" 4:07
Steven Tyler "Rockin' on the Top of the World" 2:35
Josh Groban "Believe" 4:18
Tom Hanks "Hot Chocolate" 2:33
Alan Silvestri "Spirit of the Season" 2:34
Frank Sinatra "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" 2:35
Alan Silvestri "Seeing Is Believing" 3:47
Bing Crosby "White Christmas" 3:05
The Andrews Sisters "Winter Wonderland" 2:43
Perry Como &The Fontane Sisters "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" 2:40
Kate Smith "Silver Bells" 2:39
Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters "Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)" 3:04
Alan Silvestri "Suite from the Polar Express" 6:02


Critical responseEdit

On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 61 out of 100 based on 36 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 56% based on 202 reviews, with an average score of 6.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though the movie is visually stunning overall, the animation for the human characters isn't lifelike enough, and the story is padded."[12] Despite the polarized reception from critics, The Polar Express has been very popular among audiences. The Independent reported in 2011 that the film "is now seen by many as a classic".[13] CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a rare "A+" grade.[14]

Roger Ebert gave the film his highest rating of four stars, saying, "There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie." And "It has a haunting, magical quality ..." Acknowledging comments by other reviewers, Ebert said, "It's a little creepy. Not creepy in an unpleasant way, but in that sneaky, teasing way that lets you know eerie things could happen."[15] Richard Roeper gave a glowing review to the film as well, saying that it "remains true to the book, right down to the bittersweet final image."[16] James Berardinelli gave it a 3.5/4, stating that it is "a delightful tale guaranteed to enthrall viewers of all ages", and ranked it as the 10th best film of 2004.[17]

The character design and animation were criticized for dipping into the uncanny valley.[18] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film a 1 out of 4 stars, and called it "a failed and lifeless experiment in which everything goes wrong".[19] Stephanie Zacharek of Salon gave the film 1.5 stars out of 5 and said, "I could probably have tolerated the incessant jitteriness of The Polar Express if the look of it didn't give me the creeps."[20] Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star stated, "If I were a child, I'd have nightmares. Come to think of it, I did anyway."[21] Paul Clinton from CNN called it "at best disconcerting, and at worst, a wee bit horrifying".[22]

Box officeEdit

The film opened at #2 and earned $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 an IMAX theater average of $35,593, and had a $3,000,000 take since Wednesday. In its second weekend, it grossed another $15,668,101, averaging $4,293 from 3,650 venues and boosting the 12-day cumulative to $51,463,282 and over Thanksgiving weekend made another $19,389,927, averaging $5,312 from 3,650 venues and raising the 19-day cumulative to $81,479,861.[citation needed] The film has made $187,224,490 domestically (including IMAX re-releases), and $124,140,582 overseas for a total worldwide gross of $311,365,072.[2]

The film had its network TV premiere on ABC, December 1, 2006. The airing brought in 13.2 million viewers, winning its timeslot and ranking 20th in the Nielsen ratings that week, according to

Awards and honorsEdit

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound Editing (Randy Thom and Dennis Leonard), Best Sound Mixing (Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands and William B. Kaplan) and Best Original Song for "Believe" (music and lyrics by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri)[23]

The film was nominated at the 3rd Visual Effects Society Awards in the category of "Outstanding Performance by an Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture."[24]

In 2008, the American Film Institute nominated The Polar Express for its Top 10 Animated Films list.[25]

Train TripsEdit

The film has spawned multiple real-world holiday train-travel experiences based loosely on the film's train journey, such as the Polar Express train ride held at the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel,[26] and the Polar Express Train Ride of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.[27]

The Polar Express ExperienceEdit

In November 2007, SeaWorld Orlando debuted the Polar Express Experience, a motion simulator ride based on the film. 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 January 1, 2008,[28] and is now open annually during the Christmas season.

The 4D film, distributed by SimEx-Iwerks, has been shown at other amusement parks around the world including Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Dollywood (during the annual Smoky Mountain Christmas event), Vancouver Aquarium (2009 — 2010),[29] and Warner Bros. Movie World (during the White Christmas events in 2010 and 2011).

Video gameEdit

A video game based on the film was released on November 26, 2004 for GameCube, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 2 and Windows, developed by Blue Tongue Entertainment and published by THQ.[30][31] The plot of the game is somewhat different than the film version. Within the game, the Ebenezer Scrooge puppet—who is set as the main antagonist of the game—attempts to prevent the children from believing in Santa Claus by stealing their tickets and trying to stop the children from making it to the North Pole.[32][33]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f "The Polar Express". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on April 3, 2014. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Polar Express". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on October 1, 2007. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
  3. ^ Grover, Ronald (October 19, 2001). "Can Polar Express Make the Grade?". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Archived from the original on December 14, 2009. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  4. ^ Rooney, David (October 24, 2004). "Review: 'The Polar Express'". Variety. Archived from the original on December 26, 2014. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  5. ^ "Ridin' the reels". The Chicago Tribune. October 7, 2007. p. 2. Archived from the original on August 11, 2017. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  6. ^ Detroit Free Press,November 4, 2004 "Meet Chris Van Allsburg"
  7. ^ "Steam Railroading Institute History". Steam Railroading Institute. Archived from the original on January 7, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015. July 2002: Warner Brothers arranges to use 1225’s image in “The Polar Express,”...
  8. ^ Mills, Rick (May 22, 2015). "Iconic steam engine offering rides from Mt. Pleasant". The Morning Sun. Archived from the original on August 8, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015. The 1225’s blueprints were used as the prototype for the locomotive image, and its sounds were used to bring the Polar Express to life.
  9. ^ B., Brian (November 23, 2011). "The Polar Express In IMAX 3D Returns to Theaters This Holiday Season". MovieWeb. Archived from the original on December 4, 2017. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  10. ^, "The Polar Express (VHS) Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine". Accessed December 20, 2014.
  11. ^ "The Polar Express". Metacritic. Archived from the original on June 27, 2015. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  12. ^ "The Polar Express (2005)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on June 12, 2015. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  13. ^ "The 175m flop so bad it could end the 3D boom". The Independent. March 21, 2011. Archived from the original on October 22, 2017. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  14. ^ Pamela McClintock (August 19, 2011). "Why CinemaScore Matters for Box Office". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on May 10, 2014. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 9, 2004). "The Polar Express". Roger Ebert Reviews. Archived from the original on December 4, 2013. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Polar Express, The (United States, 2004)". Archived from the original on September 7, 2015. Retrieved October 13, 2017.
  18. ^ Page-Kirby, Kristen (May 7, 2015). "'The D Train' isn't actually about trains. But these 5 movies are". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 22, 2017. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  19. ^ Travers, Peter (November 18, 2004). "The Polar Express". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 22, 2017. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  20. ^ Zacharek, Stephanie (November 10, 2004). "The Polar Express". Salon. Archived from the original on June 23, 2015. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  21. ^ Herman, Barbara (October 30, 2013). "The 10 Scariest Movies and Why They Creep Us Out". Newsweek. Archived from the original on June 23, 2015. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  22. ^ Clinton, Paul (November 10, 2004). "Review: 'Polar Express' a creepy ride". CNN. Archived from the original on May 27, 2015. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  23. ^ "Academy Awards Database: 2004 (77th)". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 12, 2014.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ "3rd Annual VES Awards". Visual Effects Society. Archived from the original on March 8, 2016. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  25. ^ "AFI'S 10 Top 10 - Official Ballot" (PDF). AFI. 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  26. ^ "All Aboard to the North Pole". Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  27. ^ "The Polar Express Train Ride". Great Smokey Mountains Railroad. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  28. ^ "The Polar Express Experience at SeaWorld Orlando Begins This Friday, November 12th..." Visit Tampa Bay. November 10, 2010. Archived from the original on November 12, 2014. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  29. ^ "Polar Express 4-D Experience". November 30, 2009. Archived from the original on July 7, 2009.
  30. ^ Adams, David (May 4, 2004). "Pre-E3 2004: THQ Announces Lineup". IGN. Archived from the original on December 24, 2014. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
  31. ^ "PlayStation Games & Media - Polar Express". PlayStation. Archived from the original on December 24, 2014. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  32. ^ Casamassina, Matt (November 8, 2004). "The Polar Express (GCN, PS2)". IGN. Archived from the original on December 24, 2014. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
  33. ^ Gerstmann, Jeff (May 12, 2004). "The Polar Express E3 2004 Preshow First Look". GameSpot. Archived from the original on March 13, 2014. Retrieved December 24, 2014.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit