The Many Problems I have with “The Polar Express”


Clare Acuti, Staff Writer

Let’s start with this movie’s most obvious problem. The animations in the movie are an immediate red flag that should tell you that you need to turn your TV off as soon as possible. The movie came out in 2004, so I think the creators tried to go crazy with new movie making and animation technology. In reality, the spirit of Christmas should be represented by classic and comforting animations, not the unsettling style that was showcased in The Polar Express. Not only that, the facial expressions are very stiff despite the fact that they used special technology to superimpose the faces and facial expressions of the actors onto the animated characters. This is definitely one of the most common issues that viewers have with this movie, and after re-watching it intently, I can confirm that it does nothing for the movie but make it extremely creepy. There are also nightmarish characters like the hobo that serve no real purpose but to scare the children in the audience. He disappears and reappears whenever he pleases, often causing problems for the main characters. If that isn’t eerie enough, there is also a whole scene where the main character is being surrounded by discarded toys that come to life. This is another aspect of the story that could be easily removed and no one would care (actually I think people would be happier). Overall, this movie has way too much creepiness to be enjoyable for a sixteen-year-old, let alone a six-year-old.

Another aspect of The Polar Express that I find unnecessary and unsettling is the animator’s obsession with including “point of view” rollercoaster-like scenes. There were three separate occasions where the audience was viewing the scene from the main character’s perspective. We were launched into a rollercoaster experience that had us going down the same steep mountains as the Polar Express. There was one scene where the kids were following presents down tubes, and one more where we were following a runaway train car. I might be able to forgive or overlook this if it didn’t happen THREE TIMES, but alas, it did. As a rollercoaster fanatic, I was still getting queasy due to dangerous scenes from the point of view of a train. Why do we as viewers need to “be” the train? That is not what I signed up for when I opted to watch the tale of a kid who didn’t believe in Santa Claus. The scenes add nothing to the plot or the viewer’s enjoyment and they only build onto the stress and discomfort of the viewers who have already had to sit through around thirty minutes of awkward dialogue and inadequate animation. 

Another bone I have to pick with this story is the characters and the constantly accelerating stupidity of their decisions. I know this is his whole character, but I can’t get over the unnecessarily pessimistic nature of the main character (also referred to as “Hero Boy”). From the get-go, he is moody and annoying. He barely interacts with the other kids on the Polar Express and his view on Santa not being real did nothing but diminish my Christmas spirit. The fact that we have to wait until the very end of the movie for him to start believing in Santa seems kind of pointless to me. I know that the theme/moral of the story is that the journey and going to the North Pole helped him believe, but isn’t it instilled in children that you don’t need to see the magic to believe? After all, most kids aren’t being whisked away on a magic train to go meet Santa. They need to have faith and “hear the bell” without experiencing what “Hero Boy” did. Having a more positive character that encounters obstacles that make him doubt Santa’s existence that ends in an interaction with Santa (solidifying his prior beliefs) might have been more effective in spreading belief to children. I also hated that “Hero Boy” and the rest of the characters kept making choices that left me screaming “What are you doing?” at my TV. For example, he decides to bring the girl her ticket (which would entail him going outside the train car into the wind) even though the girl was with the conductor and they would both eventually return to her seat to punch her ticket. In the process he loses her ticket, causing a lot of anxiety for the viewer and so much unnecessary conflict. He also decided to climb on top of a moving train. Let me say that one more time, HE WAS WALKING ON TOP OF A MOVING TRAIN! I don’t care if this is a magical animated world, that is just not smart. One of the kids is also so desperate to get his Christmas present that he jumps down into a bunch of tubes, even though it is Christmas Eve and it is obvious that Santa will be bringing it to him the next day. It’s choices like these that annoy me and make me resent this movie and its characters. 

It’s safe to say that the trademark of this movie and its characters is that everyone keeps digging themselves deeper and deeper into a metaphorical hole. As a child with high anxiety, my biggest qualm with this movie was that it was so stressful to watch. Normally, movies have one big problem that the characters are dealing with or encounter. In The Polar Express, there is problem after problem and the icing on the cake is that almost all of them were very obviously avoidable. If there is one thing I can leave you with, it is that you should always try and remember that you have a hole in your pocket. “Hero Boy” noticed the hole in his pocket at the very beginning and somehow managed to forget about it and put his most prized possession into the pocket with a hole. If you want to put something in your pocket and make sure you don’t lose it, maybe feel around in there every so often and make sure that you still have it, that way you don’t lose the gift that Santa Claus personally gave to you on Christmas Eve. 

Now you might be saying, “Clare, you are just trying to cherry-pick things you don’t like about this movie to support your preconceived narrative!” To that, I would respectfully say, “When was the last time you watched this movie? I know that many of the people I argued with about this movie/story had not re-watched the movie in years and their opinion on the film became solidified when they were a six-year-old with no concept of what made a movie good. I am still convinced that those who thoroughly enjoy this movie are rooted in their opinion because they consider the movie to be “nostalgic”. In reality, no amount of nostalgia can excuse the poor animation, storyline, and characters in this so-called “classic”. So, this Christmas or Holiday season, maybe watch or read real classics like How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Christmas Carol. I know I will be opting to watch those movies instead of The Polar Express (the worst Christmas movie of all time).