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The Polar Express: A Nostalgic Journey

Basic Information

This 2004 animated Christmas movie was an instant classic. Tom Hank’s voice was used for six of the characters. It was the first all-digital capture film. It has high quality animation. The film cost about $165 million to make. Its worldwide box office gross was over $307 million. Its three Oscar nominations were related to sound.[i] Josh Groban sings the movie's signature song, "Believe".

The movie is rated G in the United States and Australia. The United Kingdom rating is U.

[i] Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song, “Believe”. Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. Best Achievement in Sound Editing.

The Movie

The movie opens in a single-family house in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The year isn’t specific but appears about 1950. A young boy (Daryl Sabara) has reached the age where he is questioning if Santa Clause is real. His father (Tom Hanks) can tell by his behavior the boy won’t believe in Santa next year. In the middle of the night there is a loud clatter. The boy looks out the window and sees a large train. He puts on his robe and rushes outside. The conductor (Tom Hanks) tells him the train is the Polar Express and he is on the passenger manifest. The boy balks at getting on the train but he jumps on as the train is rolling away.

On the train he sits near a girl (Nona Gaye) who is enjoying the ride and a “Know-It-All” boy (Eddie Deezen). The train stops for the last passenger, Billy (Peter Scolari). Billy is a lonely boy from a poor neighborhood.

Most of the scenes on the ride to the North Pole are in or around the train. The one exception is a lost Polar Express ticket. The ticket goes on a journey through a northern winter forest and returns to the train.

On the train there is a zany hot chocolate service. The service is to the song “Hot Chocolate” sung by Tom Hanks. While walking on the top of the train the boy meets a Hobo (Tom Hanks). The Hobo is a ghost who appears and disappears throughout the train ride. The train ride is a harrowing journey until the train reaches the Arctic Circle.

The train pulls into the North Pole as the elves are headed to the town square to see Santa Clause off on his Christmas ride. The area looks like a mid-20th century factory complex. A mishap on the train sends the boy, the girl, and Billy off on a harrowing ride to a deserted roundhouse. Their journey back is frightening, creepy, exciting, and wonderous. The girl learned confidence and Billy learned trust. The boy slowly regaines his belief in Santa Clause.

The elves have New York accents. The Elf General (Charles Fleischer) uses the Yiddish expression “mashugana”.[i] The elves use modern style parachutes. They also bungie jump. Land diving is a traditional rite of passage on the island of Pentecost in the South Pacific. Modern bungie jumping began at the end of the 1970s. Considering the setting nothing appears anachronistic. The elf celebration begins with a long-haired elf (Steven Tyler) singing “Rockin’ on Top of the World”[ii], a rock and roll song, while balancing on a unicycle.

[i] Many Yiddish terms are commonly used in New York City.

[ii] “Rockin’ on Top of the World”, is one of the movie’s original songs.

Classic Songs Used


Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, by Frank Sinatra


White Christmas by Bing Crosby


Winter Wonderland by The Andrews Sisters


Here Comes Santa Claus by Bing Crosby & The Andres Sisters


Silver Bells by Kate Smith


Deck the Halls by Marrio Lanza


It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas by Perry Como & The Fontain Sisters


Frosty The Snowman by Red Foley



There is, comical and not too scary, action for the young children, and a Santa Claus appearance. For adults there is the high-quality animation and a nostalgia appeal. There is the idyllic view of Christmas of a simpler time. It appears to be the same era as the Christmas classic, "A Christmas Story". People in between these certain ages may find the story childish and schmaltzy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi


Robert Sacchi (author) on May 30, 2020:

Yes, it is one of those perennial Christmas movies.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2020:

Some children's movies become classics that families enjoy viewing again and again. Bambi, Dumbo, Cinderella, and others come to mind. The Polar Express is one that should have lasting power.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 21, 2020:

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It is a wise move to have children's movies that adults can also enjoy. Besides getting the whole family to see the movie people can watch them their whole lives. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 21, 2020:

I find that movies made for children are often enjoyed by adults just as much or even more so. We view them through different lenses.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 16, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, it is fun and thought provoking. It is an all round well made movie.

Filipe Baião from Lisbon on January 16, 2020:

It's a really fun movie, that's also very thought provoking in my opinion. Nice Hub.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 19, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you liked the review.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 19, 2019:

Good review. Nice reading. Thanks.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 16, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. How old were you when you first saw Polar Express?

michelle mitchell from arkansas on December 16, 2019:

i was always scared of polarc express

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 06, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. The way the boy looked at the available evidence was very good. Yes, everyone have a merry little Christmas.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 06, 2019:

This is such a fun movie to watch. I think that almost everyone can relate, because at some point, most children question the reality of Santa Clause. The animation and the songs add to the enjoyment.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on December 06, 2019:

And in tune with Bing, "Have a very merry Christmas..."

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 05, 2019:

Thank you all for reading and commenting.

Liz Westwood - Yes, Polar Express would have a special appeal for a child who loves trains.

FlourishAnyway - Giving the tunes and dates, as best I could figure, gives another example of the film's setting.

Pamela Oglesby - The classic tunes are used to great effect.

Alan R. Lancaster - That's great going North Yorkshire.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on December 05, 2019:

Hello there again Robert, a trip through fairy land eh? Tom Hanks is probably the best candidate for the job, with his 'lived-in' features. A credible candidate.

Polar Express fever has gripped kids here as well, so much so on the Wensleydale Railway, North Yorkshire instead of the usual Santa Express down the branch they've hired in one of the few remaining Baldwin 2-8-0 freight locomotives left on this side of the Atlantic, No. 1225, and decked out some of their railway carriages in 'Polar Express' livery. They've exceeded all expectations in income for the trains run so far, and expect to hit the jackpot by Christmas.

A big "Thank you!" Tom H (I'm a sharehlolder, can't ya guess?)

That's a lot of railway equipment they can buy on the back of that. Somebody's been given a big pat on the back, and they're almost all volunteers. .

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 05, 2019:

This i a wonderful Christmas movie and you gave a very thorough review. This movie is worth seeing to hear all those classic Christmas songs.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 05, 2019:

This was a wonderful movie. Your review of it is thorough and I like that you included a list of the Christmas tunes.

Liz Westwood from UK on December 04, 2019:

This is an iconic Christmas movie. Only the other day we were watching it with our young grandson, who loves trains.

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