Friday, December 9, 2011

My Top 25 Christmas Movies List: #17 The Polar Express

The Polar Express (2004)

    This Christmas story tells of a boy (voiced by Daryl Sabara) that is beginning to have doubts about Santa's existence. Late on Christmas Eve, he is lying awake waiting to see if Santa will appear, when all of a sudden his room begins to shake and he hears a loud sound outside. He jumps out of bed, grabs his robe and heads out the front door where he finds a train, has come to a stand still in the center of his street.

    The conductor (voiced by Tom Hanks) asks if he is coming on board The Polar Express. The boy hesitates but jumps aboard at the last minute and joins a group of pajama-clad children that are already seated in the train's main car. He meets a talkative boy and a friendly girl that tell him that the train is magical and headed to the North Pole. The conductor asks for their tickets and punches two letters into each. They make one last stop where a small boy named Billy lives but he does not board, then changes his mind but it is too late, the train has continued motion. The main boy sees that Billy is trying to catch up with the fast moving train so he pulls the emergency lever to stop the train to allow the younger boy to board. Billy successfully gets on but remains in the last car.

   Soon after, a group of dancing waiters appears with refreshments for the children while performing a musical number called "Hot Chocolate". The kind girl hides a second cup of cocoa to give to Billy. When she leaves her seat the boy finds that she left her train ticket behind and attempts to return it to her but in the process it flies away. Following a set of unusual circumstances it is returned but at a minute too late. The conductor has escorted the girl away.

   In an attempt to locate them, the boy climbs up the train car ladder and is now walking on the train's snow-covered rooftop, where he finds a homeless man (also voiced by Tom Hanks). They share a bit of conversation and then ski across the top of the train trying to make it to the engine car to avoid being knocked off at Flattop Tunnel. Upon arrival in the engine car, the boy finds the missing girl and she explains that she has been put in charge of temporarily driving the train.

   After a few more harrowing obstacles, including a pack of caribou, the train on a runaway course onto Glacier Gulch and a frozen lake that is quickly cracking, they finally reach the North Pole.

   As the Polar Express comes to a stop near the center of town the children look out the window to see droves of elves making their way towards the Town Square. Everyone departs the train except for Billy. When the boy and girl run back to get him he tells them that "Christmas has never worked out for him". They try to convince him that this Christmas will be different but just then they realize the car they are in has become uncoupled from the rest of the train and they are on a fast speed race towards a destination unknown.

   They finally stop and safely exit the car, and following the sound of a jingle bell that only the girl and Billy can hear, they begin running through the unfamiliar town. After a stop at the control center, the gift wrapping hall and gift sorting room they are transported back to Town Square in Santa's red bag.

  The crowd anxiously awaits Santa's arrival and after the reindeer are in place, trumpets are blown and an acapella rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the jolly ol' man appears. The boy is unable to see Santa due to the enormous crowd. In reaction to this, the reindeer are excitedly kicking and a single jingle bell is expelled from the sleigh and rolls towards the boy but he cannot hear it. He picks it up and shakes it but still there is no sound. He begins desperately repeating to himself, "I believe" and soon enough he can hear the sweet sound it makes. While looking at the shiny bell, he sees Santa's reflection in it, as he is standing behind him. The boy stands in awe at the man and hands him the bell.

   Santa (Tom Hanks, again) speaks to the other children standing nearby, then chooses the main boy in the story as the child to whom he will give the first gift of Christmas. He calls him upon his lap and asks what he would like for Christmas. The boy whispers in his ear and Santa agrees. He stands up, holding the jingle bell high up in the air and announces for all to hear, "The first gift of Christmas!" He then gives the bell to the boy, looks him in the eye and says "...Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart." The boy places the bell in his robe pocket and jumps down from the sleigh.

   The crowd cheers as Santa and his flying reindeer ascend into the sky to start their night of gift-giving, then with a flash, they magically disappear. The elves jump in jubilee and begin their night of celebration at another successful Christmas.

   It is time for the children to reboard the train and head back to their families. The conductor takes their tickets and punches in the remaining letters on it revealing a special meaning for each. The word he punches into the boy's is BELIEVE. He takes his seat in the train car and then realizes that he has lost the jingle bell Santa gave him due to a hole in his robe pocket. He is heartbroken.

   They begin their journey home. When they finally stop at his home, the boy says goodbye to the talkative boy and hugs the kind girl. The conductor wishes him a "Merry Christmas" and he reenters his quiet house. He sees that there are no presents under the tree nor in the stockings and the cookies and milk left for Santa have been left untouched. He heads back up to bed with a somber look on his face.

   In the morning he is awoken by his excited little sister, Sarah, yelling that Santa has visited. After opening their presents she finds another one more hidden back behind the tree for her brother. He opens the candy-cane striped package and finds the shiny bell that Santa gave him with a note inside: "Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Better fix that hole in your pocket. Mr. C." Both he and his sister shake the bell to hear its whimsical sound. Their parents come in the room and ask where it came from. The boy tells them that Santa left it. They both take a look at it, shake it and declare it "broken".

   The movie ends with this narration: "At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as the years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer heart its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."




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