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Robert Zemeckis
Tom Hanks, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye
Writing Credits:
Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles Jr.

A young boy's belief in Santa Claus gets rewarded on Christmas Eve when a steam train whose conductor pulls up in front of his house and takes him and other children on a magical journey to the North Pole.

Box Office:
$165 million.
Opening Weekend
$23,323,463 on 3650 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated G.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Audio
French Dolby 5.1
Quebecois French Dolby 5.1
German Dolby 5.1
Italian Dolby 5.1
Dutch Dolby 5.1
Chinese Traditional Dolby 5.1
Chinese Simplified Dolby 5.1
Korean Dolby 5.1
Japanese Dolby 5.1
Spanish Dolby 5.1
Czech Dolby 5.1
Danish Dolby 5.1
Finnish Dolby 5.1
Flemish Dolby 5.1
Hungarian Dolby 5.1
Norwegian Dolby 5.1
Romanian Dolby 2.0
Swedish Dolby 5.1
Quebecois French
Chinese Traditional
Chinese Simplified
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $27.99
Release Date: 11/1/2022

• “You Look Familiar” Featurette
• “A Genuine Ticket to Ride” Featurettes
• “True Inspiration” Featurette
• “Josh Groban at the Greek”
• “Behind the Scenes of ‘Believe’” Featurette
• “Flurry of Effects” Featurettes
• “Meet the Snow Angels” Featurette
• Deleted Song
• Trailer
• Blu-ray Copy


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Dolby Vision Blu-ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


The Polar Express [4K UHD] (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 15, 2022)

With a few notable exceptions like the cynical Bad Santa, most Christmas movies shoot for a sense of magic and wonder. Not many of them achieve this, though, and it seems like the harder they try, the bigger they fail.

Add 2004’s The Polar Express to that list of clunkers. A massively expensive computer-animated fable based on Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 book, Express desperately wants to enchant, but in the end, it only seems desperate.

On Christmas Eve, a 10-year-old boy (voiced by Daryl Sabara, acted by Tom Hanks) flirts with a disbelief in Santa Claus. After he nods off, something bizarre occurs: a locomotive steams up to his house.

A conductor (Hanks) invites him to come with them to the North Pole. After a quick moment of refusal, the boy changes his mind and hops on the train.

There he befriends a girl (Nona Gaye) and assists another child (voiced by Jimmy Bennett, acted by Peter Scolari) who almost misses the train. The latter seems lonely and keeps himself apart from the others for much of the time. The film follows the train’s trip to the North Pole as well as adventures along the way and at the North Pole.

Will the boy meet Santa? Will his belief be restored? Will you stay awake? Yes, yes, and no.

Express takes a 32-page illustrated book and expands it to a 100-minute movie with dull results. The movie features roughly 10 minutes of story and pads the running time to ridiculous extremes.

Really, Express offers more of a theme park attraction than a feature film. At times I thought I was at Disneyland as I watched the stunts and activities.

The movie boasts virtually no attempts to develop a narrative or characters. Instead, it leaps from one situation to another with abandon, and none of these connect to us.

The gimmicky animation and casting don’t help. Hanks portrays six roles and does the voice for all of those except the boy.

Why? I have no idea. This doesn’t make the movie more effective in any manner, but I guess it looks exciting from a publicity point of view.

Express boasts extensive use of motion capture technology, so unlike a normal animated movie, the performers acted out the physical movements of the characters and they were adapted to the screen. I guess this isn’t tremendously different than rotoscoping, though it features more of a high-tech edge.

And it fails to succeed, though that gimmick isn’t the biggest problem with the animation. Instead, the decision to go for a fairly photo-real look to the characters is what kills it.

All of the “humans” have a disturbingly plastic look to them. Their faces look like masks that always remain uncomfortably immobile and they never seem remotely real or convincing.

This means we always stay at a distance from them and the material. Given that this is a sentimental journey, that’s not a good thing.

At no point does the story ever threaten to engage or move us since we’re so put off by the weird look of the characters. They’re stiff and creepy – that’s not a good recipe for an emotional holiday tale.

Frankly, I don’t understand filmmakers’ obsession with photo-real computer animation. Sure, it makes sense for movies like Jurassic Park where you really want to pass off the CG for something real, but Express is a cartoon.

If you want the characters to look human, why not just film actors live? What’s the point of making cartoons look like real people? This robs animation of its charm and turns it into a pointless exercise in technology.

And that’s exactly what The Polar Express ends up being: one long gimmick with no reason to exist other than as a demo real for computer animation techniques. It lacks soul or heart, and even the technology doesn’t succeed, as the characters look so spooky that they distract us from the story. Express is a dull experiment and nothing more.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus C-

The Polar Express appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. This turned into a largely terrific image.

Sharpness worked well. No obvious softness interfered with the presentation, so it remained tight and well-defined.

No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no signs of edge haloes. Print flaws were a non-factor, as I never detected spots, specks, or other concerns.

Christmas movies usually come with suitably warm, glowing colors, and that was certainly the case with Express. Actually, they opted for a fairly golden feel during the train sequences, but once the vehicle reached the North Pole, the hues jumped to life a little more actively.

The colors seemed vivid and lush. HDR added range and impact to the tones as well.

Blacks felt deep and dense, while shadows felt smooth and clear. HDR brought extra punch to whites and contrast. I thought this became a strong presentation.

Though not as good, the DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack of The Polar Express seemed largely satisfying, and the soundfield got most of its zing from scenes onboard the train or at the North Pole. As I mentioned in the body of this review, the film resembled a theme park attraction.

That was bad for the story but good for the soundscape, as it meant the more action-oriented scenes opened up the surrounds well. Those scenes allowed the material to zip and soar around us in a convincing manner.

Quieter sequences were fine. They exhibited a nice, natural sense of atmosphere and conveyed place in a workable way. Music also offered strong stereo delineation.

Audio quality succeeded. Songs and score appeared vivid and lively, with nice low-end.

Effects sounded distinctive and accurate, with rich, deep bass. Speech was consistently natural and crisp, with no issues connected to intelligibility or distortion. I thought the mix wasn’t quite involving enough to reach “A” territory, but it was more than satisfactory.

How did the 4K UHD compare to the original 2007 Blu-ray? Audio showed a boost, as the DTS-HD MA mix improved on the limitations of the BD’s lossy 5.1.

Visuals got a better upgrade, as the 4K seemed brighter, tighter and more vivid. Expect a nice step up in quality.

No extras appear on the 4K UHD disc, but we find a fairly fluffy collection of materials on the included Blu-Ray Disc, where we start with a four-minute, 10-second featurette entitled You Look Familiar. This includes comments from director/writer/producer Robert Zemeckis, actor/executive producer Tom Hanks and producer Steve Starkey.

The piece discusses why Hanks ended up in so many parts and the challenges of doing so. We get a decent primer for Hanks’ work in the film but the program rushes through things so quickly that it doesn’t delve into anything with much substance.

Six bits make up A Genuine Ticket to Ride. Including its intro, its six sections last 13 minutes, 25 seconds all together. We hear from Zemeckis, Hanks, Starkey, senior visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, composer Alan Silvestri, songwriter Glen Ballard, vocalist Josh Groban, and author/executive producer Chris Van Allsburg.

The segments break down into “Performance Capture”, “Virtual Camera”, “Hair and Wardrobe”, “Creating the North Pole” and “Music”. As you can infer from those titles, “Ticket” concentrates on the technical aspects of making the movie along with music.

Ala “You Look Familiar”, it zips through the appropriate topics quickly. These add up to an enjoyable glimpse of the film’s creation, but I continue to wish we got something more elaborate and detailed. This is a kid-oriented package, though, so I suppose we have to accept superficial extras.

In that vein, we head to the five-minute, 29-second True Inspirations: An Author’s Adventure. This features notes from Van Allsburg. He chats about his childhood, his aptitude for art, how he got into writing, how he works, and inspirations for Express.

Another good but too brief featurette, this one gives us adequate background about the author and nothing more. Sorry to repeat myself, but this too-short programs are getting frustrating.

A performance clip comes via Josh Groban at the Greek. In this four-minute, 34-second piece, the vocalist performers the tune “Believe” from the movie.

It’s a sappy song and Groban’s a cloying performer. I’ll never watch this again!

More from the singer comes in the four-minute, 24-second Behind the Scenes of ‘Believe’. In addition to Groban, we hear from Ballard.

We learn a little about the song’s creation and recording. It’s one of the less interesting parts of this disc, as it mostly just talks about what a great tune they think “Believe” is.

Another featurette appears via Meet the Snow Angels. This two-minute, 44-second piece offers notes from Hanks, Zemeckis, Starkey, Van Allsburg, Groban, and actor Nona Gaye.

They discuss their favorite holiday memories. Gaye’s is the only really interesting one, at least if you know who her father was.

A Deleted Song comes next. Executive producer Jack Rapke introduces this deleted number and lets us know a little about it. Including his notes, this piece lasts seven minutes, 23 seconds.

It includes a lot more than just the tune, by the way, and it turns into a true deleted scene. It’s not particularly interesting but it’s a nice addition as a curiosity.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we end with Flurry of Effects, a domain that gives us five clips of motion capture sessions. We find “All Aboard” (1:01), “Hot Chocolate” (2:09), “Hobo on Top of Train” (2:52), “I Believe” (1:24) and “Goodbye” (1:25).

All of these show rough footage on the top of the screen and the final film on the bottom. They give us a good way to compare the original material to the animated bits.

Note that the included Blu-ray does not simply replicate the prior disc from 2007. As far as I can tell, it represents a new platter not sold on its own and not produced previously.

I guess. Express has gotten a bunch of reissues – including one with anaglyph 3D and another with 3D meant for equipped TVs – as well as some retailer exclusives, so maybe this disc already found its way onto shelves.

But if so, I can’t find proof of that. As it stands, the 4K package’s Blu-ray seems to be unique to it. If it ever gets a solo release, I’ll review it at that time.

On most levels, I must regard The Polar Express as a disappointment. The movie uses high-tech elements in the worst way and ends up as creepy and soulless. The 4K UHD provides very good picture and audio but lacks notable bonus materials. I don’t care for the movie but the 4K UHD represents it well.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of POLAR EXPRESS

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main