The Polar Express 2004

Critics score:
55 / 100

Reviews provided by RottenTomatoes

Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press: Looks as reassuringly retro as a 1950s Lionel train set still in its original box. Read more

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune: Faithful to its source but stretches it to the snapping point. Read more

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: There is wonder for us to cherish, courtesy of a spectacular visual sense. But there are also moments that deliver shock and awe instead, sequences of such exhausting, turbocharged jeopardy that it seems like we've wandered into a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Read more

Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel: Climb on and you'll experience one of the great joys of moviegoing: seeing something that's like nothing you've ever seen before. Read more

Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer: Visually, taking its cues (mostly) from Van Allsburg's Hopperesque art, The Polar Express is eye-popping. Storywise, however, it can be eyelid-drooping. Read more

David Germain, Associated Press: People in Hollywood should never work with children or animals, W.C. Fields once said. Maybe that should be expanded to hyper-realistic computer-generated children and reindeer, too. Read more

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: Its heart is in the right place, and its bell should ring for many enchanted children in its audience. Read more

Richard Schickel, TIME Magazine: At some point very early in the 3-D IMAX version of The Polar Express, technology trumps banality and you helplessly surrender to the shock and awe of this big, often thunderous movie. Read more

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: A train wreck of mind-numbing proportions. Read more

Richard Roeper, Ebert & Roeper: The Polar Express remains true to the book, including the bittersweet final image. Read more

Steve Murray, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The movie seems determined to be an instant Christmas classic, but its idea of seasonal awe comes straight off a factory conveyor belt. Read more

Keith Phipps, AV Club: As a spectacle, The Polar Express looks remarkable. As a film, however, it's the equivalent of an elaborately wrapped Christmas present containing a nice new pair of socks. Read more

Bill Muller, Arizona Republic: It is a cold, distant and failed experiment, with a molasses-mired plotline and an obvious moral forced upon us like a mug of bad eggnog. Read more

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: A holiday oddity of the first rank: a breathtaking visual feast peopled by dead-eyed mannequins. Read more

Andrea Gronvall, Chicago Reader: Director Robert Zemeckis once again harnesses a new technology to an engaging fable in this digitally animated adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's holiday tale. Read more

Bruce Westbrook, Houston Chronicle: A wondrous, dazzling, eye-popping adventure. Read more

Paul Clinton (, Those human characters in the film come across as downright ... well, creepy. So The Polar Express is at best disconcerting, and at worst, a wee bit horrifying. Read more

Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post: Polar Express honors its source, then exceeds it. Read more

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: I only wish there were more of the disorienting -- more of the silently, hypnotically Van Allsburgian -- and less of the flat, linear, polished, technical brilliance with which this big-ticket vehicle runs its route. Read more

Rick Groen, Globe and Mail: I loved watching this movie; I loved even more watching children hugging mothers watching this movie. Read more

Philip Wuntch, Dallas Morning News: The Polar Express is a stunning technological achievement and, for the most part, a stirring emotional one. Read more

Ella Taylor, L.A. Weekly: Another powerful children's story dulled into mediocrity by the worship of technology. Read more

Peter Debruge, Miami Herald: The key to enjoying this unique experiment rests, fittingly, on whether you are willing to set aside your own skepticism and go along with the movie's well-meaning and unmistakably original spirit. If so, it can truly be an exhilarating ride. Read more

John Anderson, Newsday: Watching the dead-eyed population of Polar Express and their supposedly 'natural' movements made me think more of Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" than anything associated with Christmas. Read more

Bruce Diones, New Yorker: Tom Hanks (in a number of roles) and the other actors do a nice job of voicing their parts, but the waxy animated faces they've been given are off-putting. Read more

Logan Hill, New York Magazine/Vulture: Strap yourself in and try not to vomit, because this is more of a theme-park event than a movie -- Pirates of the Caribbean in reverse, a wild ride stripped of its story, down to a rattling series of obvious, underwhelming effects. Read more

Lisa Rose, Newark Star-Ledger: A botched technological experiment of Tron proportions, cold, remote and creepy rather than engaging, warm and jolly. Read more

Jack Mathews, New York Daily News: It's a sensation -- both a milestone in computer-animation and a likely Christmas classic. Read more

Rex Reed, New York Observer: Without a trace of real live people, you get special effects that are not special, visual talking points without personality, virtual reality that is anything but real. Read more

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: Based on the children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, this computer-animated feature is a grave and disappointing failure, as much of imagination as of technology. Read more

James Berardinelli, ReelViews: A delightful tale guaranteed to enthrall viewers of all ages. Read more

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie. Read more

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: A failed and lifeless experiment in which everything goes wrong. Read more

Stephanie Zacharek, I could probably have tolerated the incessant jitteriness of The Polar Express if the look of it didn't give me the creeps. Read more

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: An enchanting, beautiful and brilliantly imagined film that constitutes a technological breakthrough. Read more

Jeff Strickler, Minneapolis Star Tribune: Entertaining and innovative animated film. Read more

Geoff Pevere, Toronto Star: If I were a kid, I'd have nightmares. Come to think of it, I did anyway. Read more

Derek Adams, Time Out: As a complete package, Zemeckis' surreal, hallucinogenic adventure is pretty inconsequential. Read more

Claudia Puig, USA Today: Simple and evocative, yet teeming with intriguing visual effects. Read more

David Rooney, Variety: The Polar Express may succeed via the motion-capture process in replicating human movement by digitalizing the performances of live actors, but it fails to capture the subtlety of facial expressions or to fabricate sympathetic, evocative figures. Read more

Ed Park, Village Voice: Unnervingly smooth, mouths moving in strange, even frightening formations, the Polar people are the least convincing things on-screen, glaring impostors amid the otherwise painstakingly rendered scenery. Read more

Jennifer Frey, Washington Post: Not only do Van Allsburg's darkly magical illustrations come to glorious life in the film; so, too, do his familiar words. Read more

Desson Thomson, Washington Post: A truly satisfying holiday picture, the kind everyone can enjoy, and which may even restore a little lost childhood in many adult viewers. Read more