Holiday Week: 5 Reasons to Love The Polar Express

The Polar Express has always held a special place in my heart. This film represents every Christmas season that I've been with my family. Countless hours have been spent watching this film, and I've recently started to question why exactly this love has grown so immensely over my lifetime. Here are 5 reasons why The Polar Express has a hold on such a big portion of my heart.

  1. 1. The Music

     “Hot Chocolate,” “Believe” and “When Christmas Comes to Town” were all played regularly on my stereo growing up. Visions of sugarplums dancing in my head were immediately replaced by cups of steaming hot chocolate and golden train tickets. The music was composed by Alan Silvestri and written by Glen Ballard with Josh Groban’s rendition of “Believe” going on to win the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media. Not only are the songs award-winning, but they are all catchy and heartwarming tunes that should be added to everyone’s Christmas playlist.

  2. 2. The Message

    One of the most memorable quotes in this film comes from the Conductor. He says that “Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see.” As a child, I didn’t pay attention to the implications of this sentence. As I grew, I began to understand the different facets of this one line. Love, a feeling of warmth that cannot be visibly seen; a deity, a holy being that some claim to have seen, but many fail to see; jealousy, a “green monster” that rears its head in our daily lives, but never appears as an image to the naked eye. All three cannot be seen but all three are common beliefs and emotions held by many individuals. By using the image of Santa Claus, The Polar Express is able to teach children the importance of believing in something that may not have a physical form. 

  3. 3. The Exciting Action Scenes

    Do you remember the moments of zero-gravity that Smokey and Steamer face when trying to fix the engine cart of the train? Or the scene of cross country skiing on top of the moving train by the Hobo and the unnamed Boy Hero? Or even the funnel that Billy, the Girl Hero and the Boy Hero swirled down when chasing Billy’s present? All of these exhilarating moments sparked curiosity about their realism and awe about their design in my young mind. As I matured, I began to focus on the artwork present in the cinematic rendition of the beautifully illustrated story book. The details of the train cars, the wild tap dancing servicemen and the intricate pathway the trio had to follow to find their way back to the train are all the results of extensive planning and design. The creative team did wonders with the final animation of this film, and accurately brought the magic of the Polar Express alive on the silver screen.

  4. 4. The Production

    This took much longer to realize than the previous points. This animated film was created using the technique motion capture, which is a form of animation where actors act out the actions of characters before being animated into 2D or 3D images. In addition to being the first movie of this style, The Polar Express was also creative with its use of voice actors. The voice of Tom Hanks is used for six different characters, including almost all of the lead adult characters. This stylistic choice, although the result of a failed attempt to have Hanks play all of the parts, added the idea of separation between adults and children. Similar to the “wah wah wah” of adults in Peanuts specials—depicting most of the adults that the main boy encounters with the same voice (albeit sometimes hard to recognize)—may promote the idea that as children age, they lose belief in Santa and Christmas. Although this may be far-fetched, it seems reasonable to speculate about this creative measure; and it provides a great excuse to watch the film, as it is perfectly acceptable to spend 100 minutes analyzing a movie—even if it is intended for children!

  5. 5. The Ties to Michigan

    One of the most logical reasons for my love of The Polar Express is the connection that it has to West Michigan, the area where I was born and raised. Published in 1985, Chris Van Allsburg wrote and illustrated the beloved children’s book, The Polar Express. He set the exciting adventure in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his home town. 19 years later, Van Allsburg’s award winning story was adapted for the big screen. Armed with beautiful animation and a star-studded cast (comprising almost entirely of Tom Hanks), The Polar Express went on to earn 26 nominations and 5 total wins in the 2004 award cycle. 

As a 21-year-old college senior, I am grateful for the love that both The Polar Express story book and film have brought to my holiday season over the past two decades; and I look forward to spreading this joy to others by sharing this experience with my future friends and family. Happy Holidays!