Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Polar Express


Dir: Robert Zemeckis

Tom Hanks and Zemeckis present what is apparently a classic children's book about a doubting boy who learns the true meaning of Christmas. Fancy that in a Christmas movie. There is the story, and there is the tech; reverse order here.

The motion capture animation here is certainly in the conversation for the best I have ever seen. While much of the human movement, lips especially, is still stiff, just about everything else is really gorgeous. Since the setting is magical to begin with, the North Pole and all, much of the background animation seems appropriately ethereal, even more effective that film might have been. For example, moonlight reflecting off snow can look more like I think it ought to in a digital environment, shimmering far more brilliantly than all but the most forunate moments in the real world. A lot of the movie happens at speed (fast trains, falling down hills, etc.) and those scenes are aided by the freedom of the digital camera as well. If they could ever get the humans down, there would really be something here.

The story, well, it's a kid's movie. You know it already, even if you haven't seen it. There are some things worth noting, though. Santa's operation is oddly corporate. We normally see the elves hunched over stools with hammers handcrafting wooden trains. Here, giant assembly plants are run in militaristic fashion, with some elves barking orders and everyone marching lockstep. When Santa shows up, the elves all gather in the town square and engage in mass chanting and proclamations to the conquering hero. Santa is like Pinochet, without the torture (I hope). While distrubing at first glance, I found myself appreciating the author's attempt to make the Santa story more plausible in terms of an economy of scale. And since the film is about overcoming doubts, then I can endorse that move.

Not one fart joke or talking animal in the whole film, which makes it one of the best movies for kids in the last five years. Only for adults with a desire to check out the animation.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 11/29/2005 11:57:00 PM that...

Ok, you have convinced me to see it. The story is from a classic kids books, so I wasnt worried about being turned off by the narrative. The animation, however, looked a bit creepy. But, if it is that well done, then the only real hurdle falls. Ebert gave it four stars...