What is up with The Polar Express?

The Polar Express’s original movie poster in 2004. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis.


The Polar Express’s original movie poster in 2004. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis.

Anna Anderson, Staff Writer

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to break out the classics. “The Polar Express” is a seasonal favorite for many; it is critically acclaimed, known for its realistic computer animation and outrageous storyline, but people are recently starting to realize how nightmare-inducing their once treasured childhood movie actually is. 

Based on Chris Van Allsburg’s award-winning picture book, the film first aired in 2004.  “The Polar Express” is a musical fantasy film centered around a young boy, the main character whose name one never learns, and is referred to in the credits as “Hero Boy.” On the night of Christmas Eve, the boy sees a mysterious train approach just outside his window. When he goes to investigate, he is welcomed aboard by the conductor, voiced by the infamous Tom Hanks.  

When first watching this film as a young child through the lens of innocence and oblivion, I never truly noticed many of the horrifying aspects that are present throughout the entirety of the film. For starters, the entirety of the plot is not exactly setting a great example — especially for young impressionable viewers. The entirety of the movie centers around a grown man kidnapping children in the middle of the night without any parent’s knowledge. In addition, the conductor places the children in grave danger multiple times with near death ice incidents, threatening to kick children off for losing their ticket and a weird homeless man/ghost figure hanging out on top of the train. 

In addition to the creepy plot, viewers are never able to learn any of the characters’ names. This creates a sense of having the viewer feeling like an outsider, not being able to properly relate to the cast. Not only that, critics found that the Computer-generated imagery through the movie seemed to be lacking. Despite a $165 million budget, the animation created characters possessing a horrifying persona, lifeless eyes and twitchy movements. This is a phenomenon known as the Uncanny Valley, which creates a sense of uneasiness when human-like animations don’t act human. 

Last but certainly not least, I must call attention to the spine-chilling hobo that lives on the train. Many young adults reminiscing on their favorite Christmas movie pose the questions, Why is he there? What does he stand for? Although there is no definitive answer to this question, we do know that Hero Boy is the only one to see and directly interact with the homeless man. Claiming to be the King of the North Pole, there are theories that the boy is battling schizophrenia and the hobo man is a figment of his imagination, persuading him to drive himself into more grave danger. The homeless man is also voiced by Tom Hanks along with Hero Boy’s dad and Santa Clause, bringing his character count up to four. This creates room for conspiracies on if the whole movie was just a dream or a hallucination from the main character. 

One thing is certain, I will never be able to view my once adored “The Polar Express” in the same way. When watching, proceed with caution. Perhaps this movie was never meant to be a children’s classic, but in the category of psychological horror.