Why The Polar Express is My Favorite Christmas Movie


Justin Peters, Entertainment Editor

When I was a young lad (and I mean VERY young), my father and I took a trip to the local IMAX theatre to see my very first movie. A Christmas movie. Not just any Christmas movie, but a Christmas movie that would withstand the test of time, despite not being in everyone’s best Christmas movie lists. This is a movie that has slowly become more and more hated over the years by Christmas aficionados, being cited as a “CGI-nightmare,” awfully acted, and having a story that makes no sense. But when I saw it for the first time, I was blown away by everything: the sights and sounds. That film was the 2004 masterpiece known as The Polar Express, and it is, and always will be, my favorite Christmas movie.

The Polar Express is based off of the children’s book of the same name, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg (the best children’s author besides Dr. Seuss in my not so humble opinion). The story revolves around a young, unnamed boy who is lacking the Christmas spirit. On Christmas Eve, in the middle of the night, a giant steam-locomotive parks outside his house to whisk him, and a group of kids, off to the North Pole to visit Santa. On the way, the boy learns about friendship, being fortunate, and retaining the Christmas spirit, even when getting older.

Now, it’s not just nostalgia talking, I really do think this movie should get more appreciation in the mainstream. Apart from memes about Tom Hanks’ acting and the nerd kid’s “Mo Bamba/Sicko Mode” query, the film celebrates the true spirit of Christmas more than any Christmas film. 

Almost every Christmas film is about the importance of celebrating Christmas with your family. There’s nothing wrong with that, but think about it: A Christmas Story, Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, Christmas Vacation, these are all Christmas movies, but none of them encapsulate the TRUE essence of Christmas (besides family because that is really important). But what if you want to get some Christmas spirit without having to think about your family because, let’s face it, a lot of us aren’t going to be with family this holiday season, and I doubt Buddy finding his dad, or Kevin’s parents coming home, or George Bailey running through the streets yelling “Merry Christmas” isn’t going to make us feel too good.

Whenever you’re adapting a children’s book, you’re going to need to add scenes that pad out the runtime. The Polar Express’ new scenes and characters make the film enjoyable and more virtuous. The Conductor is just a good Samaritan who wants to get the kids to the North Pole no matter what. He’ll even put his own life in danger to make sure the kid’s Christmas is one they’ll never forget, much like how parents will do the same thing for their kids. 

The Hobo is a pretty great inner-antagonist for the main character, as he represents the inside feeling that maybe Christmas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, made even better by the fact that every other character cannot see him, because the main character is the only one dealing with this conflict. 

The inclusion of the poor boy (known as “Billy”) gives a new perspective for kids who are less fortunate on Christmas. His character helps the audience and the main character learn that this is not uncommon. Kids celebrate Christmas sometimes without gifts, food, or even family. Billy learns that if he can let people and friends in his life that are willing to help, Christmas can be a little bit better. 

The build-up of getting to see Santa is brilliant; everyone can see him at first except for the main character because he still doesn’t truly believe in the spirit of Christmas. Only when one of the sleigh bells helps him realize everything that he’s been through, he’s finally able to see Santa and when he’s finally on-screen, you get the tingly feeling of your first Christmas and what it was like to see all of the presents under the tree, it’s amazing.

Also forgot to mention that parts of this film look gorgeous. Despite the fact that this was the first feature-film to use all-digital motion-capture, it still manages to have some great, iconic shots, like the spiral ice mountain, the rooftops of the North Pole isle, and the train in front of the house is like finding out that you’ve been chosen for something nobody else gets to experience.

And the sleigh bell. Come on, how is that not the most iconic item in any Christmas movie? It perfectly represents the truth that we all need to keep that spirit in our hearts, even as we grow older. We’ll go through rough patches and losses (and pandemics) but as long as we keep the Christmas spirit every year, we’ll all be a little bit happier. And THAT’S how you do a Christmas movie.

GRADE: A++, plus a Christmas tree sticker!