It's not often that I watch a movie because it has a bad reputation, but after what I'd read about CGI fairy tale The Polar Express, I just had to check out these characters' eyes.
Specifically, would they turn out to be as blank and zombie-like as I had heard?
No, they didn't. There are a couple of uncanny mocap moments, but for maybe 99 of these 100 minutes, this movie worked its magic flawlessly.
As our kid sneaks out in the middle of the night to catch the eponymous Polar Express to Santa's home at the North Pole, almost the entire story unfolds in one long unbroken scene, really enabling us to go along with him on the journey too. Despite the minor awkwardness of portraying human beings with animation, the actual world here looks so perfect as to make the whole ride enthralling. The fuzzy picture (digital!) isn't enough of a handicap to dampen things either.
Best of all however, is the film's script, which holds strong throughout the mystery, and often serves up some good observations…
Conductor: "Thing about trains - it doesn't matter where you're going, what matters is deciding to get on."
Boy: "What did he [Santa] look like? Did you see him?"
Conductor: "No Sir, but sometimes seeing is believing, and sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."
Hobo: "One other thing. Do you believe in ghosts? Interesting."
My only two real problems with this movie were both concerning its attitude.
1. The moral of the story is, on the face of it, that you should believe in Santa. Ultimately, every kid who does right by this film, unless they die first, will one day suffer for it. The only way of restoring their love for it will be for them to eventually become parents themselves, and perpetuate the example by repeating it to their own kids. Here's a thought - how about simply admitting to kids that it's just a game? Y'know, so that no-one has to be defeated each year?
2. Christmas here has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ. Angels get mentioned at one point, and dismissed, which is remarkably un-Christmassy. Whatever your religious beliefs, there's no avoiding just how arbitrary are the pressures on our young protagonist here. At the end of the day, he's on a journey to believing what he's told to believe, which isn't much of a life-lesson either.
Still, I found the whole movie to be an absolutely enthralling piece of magic, and in places a lot like a lucid nightmare.
Ten out of ten. How Christmassy is that?