Release Date:  November 10, 2004
Rating:  G
Genre:   Animation/Family
Run Time: 93 min.
Director:  Robert Zemeckis
Actors:  Tom Hanks, Leslie Harter Zemeckis, Eddie Deezen, Nona M. Gaye, Peter Scolari

There is something very sick about this movie, and it isn’t the fact that Tom Hanks plays nearly every role, as annoying as that is. 

It also isn’t the fact that a Christmas movie is being released weeks before Thanksgiving, as inexplicable as that is.  It’s the way that director Robert Zemeckis (“Romancing the Stone,” “Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump”) has beautifully and alluringly transformed Christmas into Clausmas, beckoning us to worship the jolly old elf as the heart and soul of this all-important holiday.  And that’s something that Christians should be very upset about indeed.

Based on the 1985 picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, which won the Caldecott Award, “The Polar Express” relates the story of Hero Boy (Hanks), whose belief in Santa Claus is starting to falter.  With a stack of newspaper clippings and a Norman Rockwell cover from the “Saturday Evening Post” to bolster his suspicions, Hero Boy plays along, to keep his sister and parents happy.  But he no longer “believes.”

One snowy Christmas Eve, just minutes before midnight, an express locomotive appears on Hero Boy’s front lawn.  A friendly conductor (Hanks) beckons him aboard, where children are merrily enjoying the ride to the North Pole.  Hero Boy makes friends with Hero Girl (Nona Gaye), Know-It-All Boy (Eddie Deezen) and Lonely Boy (Peter Scolari), but after losing Hero Girl’s ticket, must climb to the top of the train.  There, he encounters a mysterious hobo (Hanks) who dispenses advice.

Thanks to two slapstick engineers, the train ride becomes perilous, traveling up and down snowy peaks and racing across a frozen lake, trying to outrun an ice crack which threatens them with certain extinction.  Once at the North Pole, the adventures continue as the children eagerly await the appearance of Santa and his dispensing of the first gift of the season.

The technology behind this film is amazing, with visuals like no other seen in cinema.  Zemeckis attached dozens of motion-detecting lights to the actors then superimposed animated characters onto their faces, creating a unique blend of real and artificial.  Together with the computer-generated sets and visual effects, the results are stunning to look at.  Hanks does a good job with his many roles, which also include the boy’s father and Santa.  Unfortunately, it’s not enough to overcome the desperation and emptiness that overshadows this ambitious effort.

The problem, of course, is its message, which has been hijacked by a secular culture intent on removing Jesus Christ from the Christ Mass.  The entire film revolves around the exhortation to “believe,” with promises that we can’t always see that which is real. But sadly, faith in this film means believing in Santa – nothing more, nothing less – which is symbolized by the ability to hear the chime of a certain sleigh bell.  When Santa does appear, he is a benevolent giant looming over everyone, magically choosing one child to receive the first gift of the year.  Like the millions of elves who wait breathlessly for Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve, we, too are asked to hold our breath in anticipation, then bow to this pagan god. 

To my surprise – and to the great detriment of the story – Santa chooses (brief spoiler ahead) Hero Boy rather than Lonely Boy to receive that gift.  How sad, for it is Lonely Boy who has lived his entire life in poverty, never receiving even one Christmas present.  And what a lesson that might have been for children to care for those less fortunate, putting the needs of others ahead of their own.  Yet there is no selflessness here.