Instead, the story hammers once again its crucial “believe in Santa” message, when Hero Boy opts not for a toy but for a bell that has fallen from Santa’s sleigh.  Santa commends him for his wise choice, because the sleigh bell is “a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas.”  Santa then reminds the child that “the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”  Ah, the old feel-good “spirit of Christmas.”  What is it but chestnuts roasting on an open fire, winter wonderlands and warnings to behave, lest Santa cross you off his list?  What else could Christmas be but stockings hung by the chimney with care, visions of dancing sugarplums and a merry “Ho! Ho! Ho!” fading into the twilight of dawn?

Nostalgia is wonderful thing, and this story is full of references to yesteryear, from Hero Boy’s “Lone Ranger” slippers to the background Sinatra and Crosby songs (not a Christian hymn was playing, not even a tune).  But these happy memories also came during a time when families were intact, unlike the current stew of ‘steps,’ ‘partners,’ ‘significant others’ and wildly-creative euphemisms we must apply to strangers invading our family celebrations – which may or may not involve family.  Of course, those same Baby Boomers who long for that brief moment in childhood history are also the ones who shattered that era with exhortations to “Make love not war,” “Find yourself” and “If it feels good, do it.”  So it’s a little late now to expect us to believe that by embracing the man in red, all will be well in the world.  Call me the Grinch, but that ain’t the North Pole – that’s La La Land.

These aren’t the only empty messages in “The Polar Express,” which churns out clichés like the elves making presents.  “There’s no greater gift than friendship,” says one character, discounting things like sacrifice, duty and honor-bound commitment, much less – oh, I don’t know … maybe someone dying for you?  On a cross, perhaps?  But you can’t frost cookies shaped like that now, can you?

The real Nicholas, who set an example by helping the needy (unlike this film, which leaves them to fend for themselves), never intended to be worshipped, much less have this “holy day” revolve around him, no matter how distorted his image might become.  And like the Christ who preceded him, that Nicholas knew that Christmas was not about him or us – something this story tragically fails to see.

The scary thing about “The Polar Express” is not that non-believers are now trying to define our religious holiday, as bad as that is.  (Maybe next year Warner Brothers will remake Hanukkah or Ramadan – let’s see how well that goes over.)  The most frightening thing about this film is how deceptive it is.  It beckons us to another land – a beautiful, seductive place filled with tradition, story and the power of myth.  But no matter how alluring this place might seem, it is ultimately a land of great desolation.  For, without a Savior who removes from us the stains of corruption, greed and wrongdoing, we remain tied to self, lost in a sea of longing.

“The Polar Express” will appeal to many people, but its success will only reveal how very far from the real Christmas and the real Spirit we have truly strayed.

AUDIENCE: All ages


  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:    None. 
  • Language/Profanity:   None.  There is an “almost” obscenity, when a character says “I’ll tell you what’s grass, it’s my owwwwwww!”
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:   None.
  • Violence:    Mild. Lots of wild rides, with the train veering off the tracks onto cracking ice and going down rollercoaster-like plunges. Children get into perilous situations, like crossing moving train cars or almost falling from the train, as well as various mishaps at the North Pole like falling onto conveyor belts, but nothing bad ever happens.