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Is It a Classic Christmas Movie or Just Plain Creepy?


Summary

  • The animation in The Polar Express has been criticized as creepy, with the characters feeling unsettling and off-putting to many viewers.
  • The movie evokes a nostalgic feeling of Christmas, with its focus on the importance of belief and the magic of the holiday season.


It has been nearly 20 years since The Polar Express first premiered in theaters, and fans and critics alike have been split on a certain debate about the Christmas film. Adapted from the children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express follows a young boy on a magical and beautiful journey to the North Pole on the night of Christmas Eve. The boy is at the age where he is skeptical of Santa Claus’ existence. When given the opportunity to take a leap of faith, he decides to board the mysterious night train, where he sees other children are excited about their adventure. After a very eventful journey filled with colorful characters, the boy learns that believing in something takes more effort than just seeing it.

Even with this heartfelt message, some people cannot get past a few “creepy” aspects of the film, such as the “uncanny valley” animation and how a few of the characters interact with one another. Take a look here, and decide for yourself if The Polar Express should be considered a classic Christmas movie or if it is just plain creepy.


The Animation Is a Tad Creepy

Just about all the negative reviews written about The Polar Express share a common statement: the animated characters are creepy. While the snowy scenery, the train, and even the scene where the golden ticket travels through the woods are all beautifully done, many people say that something about the characters just doesn’t feel right.

The Polar Express was filmed using motion-capture equipment, which is essentially actors getting hooked up to sensors for computers to capture and recreate realistic body movements and, sometimes, even facial expressions. Because it was the first-ever full-length feature film to be made only using motion-capture technology, it is understandable for people to feel uncertain about something that is unfamiliar.

Per BBC, Robert Zemeckis, the director of The Polar Express, said one of Van Allsburg’s conditions when selling the rights to his book was that it would not be made into an animated cartoon. However, when considering the budget and the final product, Zemeckis felt that motion-capture would be the best of both worlds: the animation would look realistic enough, but everything could be altered on the computer. Tom Hanks was excited about this decision as it meant he would get to play a number of characters rather than just the conductor.

The Nostalgic Feeling of the Movie Is Classic

Warner Bros.

Christmas is about believing in something bigger than yourself. Whether that be in a religious sense, a belief in Santa Claus, or a recognition of the magic that surrounds the holiday season, it is nice to see people express their gratitude and share some cheerful experiences. For children, many of their imaginations run wild — and that is precisely what happens in The Polar Express.

The young boy wrestles with his belief in Santa Claus, and on the night of Christmas Eve, he is transported to the North Pole to discover that his faith in the big man is all he needs. Almost all fans can remember back to when they also believed in Santa or the magic that naturally came with Christmas, so to see this belief come alive (whether it be real or just a dream for the boy) is incredible. From the warm friendships made while on the journey to the beautiful ringing of Santa’s sleigh bells, there is a rich nostalgia that blankets The Polar Express.

Related: That Fake Polar Express Prequel Might Actually Be a Good Idea

Some of Tom Hanks’ Characters Are Scary at Times

When hearing the conductor holler “All aboard!”, it is easy to imagine Hanks yelling into a microphone. However, fans may be surprised to know that he also voiced the ghostly homeless man, who lives on top of the train, Santa Claus, the Narrator, the protagonist’s father, and the Scrooge-like puppet that harasses the young boy. Now, not all of these characters are as kind and helpful as they should have been.

The conductor seems like a respectable man who simply wants to do his job, but there are times when he does not seem to have the best intentions — like when he takes the young girl up on the roof of the train or when he yells at the boy for stopping the train for another child to get on. Conversely, the homeless man competes for the creepiest cartoon character prize, as he gives off a very eerie feeling and makes the boy question his own reality. His calm yet condescending demeanor constantly makes the audience think that something will go wrong on top of the train.

Lastly, the Ebenezer Scrooge puppet that is found in the rubble of the forgotten toys is just plain frightening as he shouts at the protagonist and creates a claustrophobic feeling by laughing as the boy gets tangled up in the dark and cluttered train car.

Related: Best Voice Actors of All Time, Ranked

Is the Overall Heartfelt Message Enough?

A boy, holding a bell, stares in deep contemplation
Warner Bros.

As the movie comes to a close and the young boy has grown older, he reminds us all that that bell still rings “for all who truly believe.” It’s a heartfelt moment that connects the audience with the boy as the bell chimes through the speakers, making it seem like everyone who just finished watching the film also believes in the true magic of Christmas. However, is this message and nostalgic feeling enough to consider The Polar Express a classic Christmas movie, or are there too many strange factors throughout the film that just make the whole thing seem creepy?

Given that the film came out in 2004, people were unfamiliar with the animation used and labeled it as “unsettling” and “off-putting.” However, now that the use of motion capture technology and CGI has greatly increased, the film does not stand out too much anymore. The darker scenes are still a little much, but in the end, they are not enough to deem the entire movie “creepy.”

For The Polar Express‘ 20th anniversary, it should be published that the film is indeed a Christmas classic. A young boy taking us all on the adventure of a lifetime to meet the most magical being is warm and fun with just a tad bit of chaos thrown in. Stream on Hulu or Max



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