The Polar Express (2004)

G | 99 mins | Children's works, Adventure | 10 November 2004

THIS TITLE IS OUTSIDE THE AFI CATALOG OF FEATURE FILMS (1893-1993)
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HISTORY

The end credits include the following acknowledgements: "The World Book Encyclopedia"; and "The Major League Baseball trademarks depicted in this motion picture were licensed by Major League Baseball Properties, Inc." End credits conclude with the following written statement: “Dedicated to the memory of Michael Jeter.” A photograph of Jeter also appears onscreen. Jeter made his final acting performances in the roles of “Smokey” and “Steamer” before his death on 30 Mar 2003.
       According to a 22 Oct 2004 WSJ article, actor-executive producer Tom Hanks purchased the film rights to Chris Van Allsburg’s Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book The Polar Express (1985) after reading the story to his children. A 15 Mar 2000 DV article announced that Castle Rock Pictures had made a “seven-figure commitment” to produce the film with Hanks’s production company, Playtone. Hanks and his partner at Playtone, Gary Goetzman, were set to produce the picture with Van Allsburg and William Teitler, Allsburg’s partner at Golden Mean. The picture was expected to be released Christmas 2001 with Hanks starring as the “Conductor.” Van Allsburg told DV that he was resistant to adapting his book into a film before Hanks took interest in the project and noted that Hanks showed a particular “sensitivity to the material.”
       A 21 Feb 2002 DV news item announced that Robert Zemeckis was hired to produce the film and was positioning himself for the directorial role. Concurrently, Zemeckis’s company, ImageMovers, was negotiating a deal with Warner Bros. Pictures as its contract with DreamWorks was set to expire in Jun 2002. Although Castle Rock executive Rob ... More Less

The end credits include the following acknowledgements: "The World Book Encyclopedia"; and "The Major League Baseball trademarks depicted in this motion picture were licensed by Major League Baseball Properties, Inc." End credits conclude with the following written statement: “Dedicated to the memory of Michael Jeter.” A photograph of Jeter also appears onscreen. Jeter made his final acting performances in the roles of “Smokey” and “Steamer” before his death on 30 Mar 2003.
       According to a 22 Oct 2004 WSJ article, actor-executive producer Tom Hanks purchased the film rights to Chris Van Allsburg’s Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book The Polar Express (1985) after reading the story to his children. A 15 Mar 2000 DV article announced that Castle Rock Pictures had made a “seven-figure commitment” to produce the film with Hanks’s production company, Playtone. Hanks and his partner at Playtone, Gary Goetzman, were set to produce the picture with Van Allsburg and William Teitler, Allsburg’s partner at Golden Mean. The picture was expected to be released Christmas 2001 with Hanks starring as the “Conductor.” Van Allsburg told DV that he was resistant to adapting his book into a film before Hanks took interest in the project and noted that Hanks showed a particular “sensitivity to the material.”
       A 21 Feb 2002 DV news item announced that Robert Zemeckis was hired to produce the film and was positioning himself for the directorial role. Concurrently, Zemeckis’s company, ImageMovers, was negotiating a deal with Warner Bros. Pictures as its contract with DreamWorks was set to expire in Jun 2002. Although Castle Rock executive Rob Reiner was originally anticipated to lead the production, he is not credited in the picture. Zemeckis, who wrote the screenplay with William Broyles, Jr., told WSJ that the book provided a general outline for the film; the first and last lines of the narrative, as well as every drawing in the twenty-nine page book are replicated in the film, Zemeckis accentuated minor characters, including “Hero girl,” “Know-it-all” and “Lonely boy.” Zemeckis also created a new character, “Hobo,” and introduced a cameo performance by Steven Tyler, the singer from the rock band Aerosmith.
       WSJ noted that the illustrated book presented challenges to the filmmakers because the narrative called for action that would have been impossible to create with a live action picture, but animation was “ruled out” because it would not accurately represent the humanity of the characters. Zemeckis and Hanks concluded that the picture should be filmed with motion capture technology, using live action footage to generate animated images. As stated in a 21 Nov 2004 LAT article, Polar Express marked the first time motion capture was used for both the body and face of live action performers; during the decade since its inception, motion capture was predominantly used for body movement, alone, because facial gestures were too subtle to register on the technology developed to date. Actors in The Polar Express were outfitted in skin-tight bodysuits with approximately forty-eight infrared reflective markers on specific body parts, while their faces were connected with an additional 150 markers, each four millimeters wide.
       Principal photography, which began 21 Mar 2003 in Los Angeles, CA, according to 8 Apr 2003 HR production charts, involved seventy motion capture cameras that surrounded a ten-square-foot green screen stage. As the actors performed in the “zone,” the cameras recorded the movement of the reflective markers and sent the information to a master computer that recreated the action with “virtual skeleton(s) and virtual muscle systems(s).” Meanwhile, Zemeckis used video reference footage of the performances to select the scenes that would be developed by motion capture effects technicians. After the technicians created scenario and point of view in the master computer, Zemeckis reviewed the film again and sent his approved footage to Sony Pictures Imageworks for detailed animation of the characters. According to a 24 Oct 2004 LAT article, the relatively short, thirty-eight day schedule of principal photography would have been impossible if the film was shot as a live-action feature, and Tom Hanks would not have been able to star in five roles.
       Noting that the picture represented the future of Hollywood filmmaking, “where emerging digital technology” was redefining “everything from the equipment used on a set to the contracts workers sign to the definition of the jobs they take,” a 2 Dec 2002 LAT article stated that labor unions were concerned that the “all-digital production” would preclude their members from employment. Although the budget was set at $150 million, union leaders feared that the money would not filter back into traditional economy of Hollywood filmmaking and jobs such as assistant directors would be considered superfluous. A 24 Oct 2004 NYT article called the picture “the first star-driven film to cross completely over to the digital domain” and a “turning point” in the history of filmmaking analogous to the transition from silent films to sound. NYT stated that the production was devoid of elaborate sets, lighting, costumes, traditional cameras and celluloid film; the picture was output from computer hard drive to film stock by a laser film recorder during the last stages of production. Still, crewmembers such as production designer Rick Carter and costume designer Joanna Johnston, both previous collaborators with Zemeckis, were hired with their teams to perform normal duties; however, they communicated their designs through models, blueprints and drawings to effects technicians instead of seamstresses and construction crews.
       According to the 22 Oct 2004 WSJ article, each minute of footage cost approximately $1 million to produce, leading Warner Bros. to look for an investor to collaborate on the project during post-production. Various contemporary sources, including articles in LAT on 22 and 24 Oct 2004, reported that Universal Pictures turned down the opportunity to co-finance the film because the expense was too risky. However, on 23 Apr 2004, DV announced that real estate mogul Steve Bing agreed to finance the picture for $80 million through his company, Shangri-La Entertainment, although he would not be credited personally as a producer. As noted in both WSJ and DV, the deal marked one of the biggest financial investments made by an individual in filmmaking history and Bing had only produced one film previously, The Big Bounce (2004, see entry).
       Despite the fact that Bing financed nearly half of the budget, which eventually cost upward of $160 million, the deal guaranteed Warner Bros. sole distribution rights worldwide. The 22 Oct 2004 LAT stated that Warner Bros. spent $125 million in global distribution and marketing, but the picture would need to generate at least $500 million in box-office grosses, as well as television and DVD sales, to assure profits to the filmmakers, and Hanks and Zemeckis maintained rights over one-third of the earnings. Hanks and Zemeckis were paid a salary of $40 million each, according to a 17 Nov 2004 LAT article, as well as guaranteed “35% of the first-dollar gross – 20% to Hanks and 15% to Zemeckis.”
       As noted in the 24 Oct 2004 NYT, The Polar Express was the first “major studio feature” to open simultaneously in traditional theaters and IMAX 3-D venues and Zemeckis reported that the process of transferring the digital content to a 3-D format was very simple. The Los Angeles, CA, premiere of the film on 7 Nov 2004 at the Chinese Theater raised $600,00 for Zemeckis’s alma mater, the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinema-Television, according to a 9 Nov 2004 DV news item.
       Despite the fanfare surrounding the film’s 10 Nov 2004 release, The Polar Express earned only $23.3 million its opening weekend, and a 28 Nov 2004 LAT article reported that the picture marked “one of the biggest Hollywood fiascos of 2004.” Various contemporary sources such as the 17 Nov 2004 LAT attributed part of the poor attendance to the timing of the release; Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004, see entry) opened with great success one week earlier and Paramount Pictures’ The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (2004, see entry) was being widely promoted for its release on 19 Nov 2004. The Polar Express was broadly criticized for its failure to vitalize the characters, as reviews in DV on 25 Oct 2004 and LAT and NYT on 10 Nov 2004 complained that motion capture was not an effective means to realistically portray figures and emotions. However, the film was highly successful at IMAX venues and set a record gross of $2.1 million its opening weekend. The 28 Nov 2004 LAT noted that the figures were particularly impressive because only fifty-nine IMAX theaters nationwide were screening the picture, and several venues were sold-out until late Dec and mid-Jan 2005.
       As stated by Robert Ebert in his 23 Nov 2005 Chicago Sun Times IMAX review, interest in the film grew by word of mouth, and even one year after its release the picture was still selling out IMAX theater screenings, gaining the status of an “enduring classic.” On 10 Dec 2011, Var reported that Warner Bros. “perennial holiday re-issue” of The Polar Express had earned $182.2 million in domestic grosses since 2004; the picture was released every year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s weekend with almost no budget for marketing at both IMAX and traditional theaters. Warner Bros. stated that despite the film’s disappointing opening in 2004, it became an extremely profitable venture. According to a 26 Oct 2009 NYT article, the picture had grossed over $300 million in box-office receipts worldwide to the time and the DVD was one of Warner Bros. most successful releases, with sales reaching over nine million copies in the U.S. alone.
       As reported in DV on 9 Dec 2004, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Academy Award selection committee for animated feature films was challenged to determine if The Polar Express qualified, but representatives claimed that the definition of “animation” remained broad and the film would be considered for contention. However, the picture’s three Academy Award nominations, Music (Original Song), Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing, did not recognize animation or special effects.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Sun Times
23 Nov 2005.
---
Daily Variety
15 Mar 2000
p. 1, 22.
Daily Variety
21 Feb 2002
p. 1, 56.
Daily Variety
23 Apr 2004
p. 1, 18.
Daily Variety
18 Jul 2005.
---
Daily Variety
25 Oct 2004
p. 8, 16.
Daily Variety
3 Nov 2004.
---
Daily Variety
9 Nov 2004.
---
Daily Variety
3 Dec 2004.
---
Daily Variety
9 Dec 2004
Section A, p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Apr 2003.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Oct 2004
p. 8, 16.
Los Angeles Times
2 Dec 2002
Section C, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
10 Nov 2004
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
22 Oct 2004
Section C, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
24 Oct 2004
Section E, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
17 Nov 2004
Section E, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
21 Nov 2004
Section E, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
28 Nov 2004
Section E, p. 26.
New York Times
24 Oct 2004
Section 2, p. 1.
New York Times
10 Nov 2004
p. 1.
New York Times
26 Oct 2009
Section B, p. 3.
Variety
1 Nov 2004
p. 28.
Variety
10 Dec 2011.
---
WSJ
22 Oct 2004
Section A, p. 6.
WSJ
22 Oct 2004
Section B, p. 1.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Castle Rock Entertainment Presentation
In Association with Shangri-La Entertainment
A Playtone/Imagemovers/Golden Mean Production
A Robert Zemeckis Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr/1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam op, Performance capture unit
Cam asst, Performance capture unit
Cam asst, Performance capture unit
Still photog, Performance capture unit
Chief lighting tech, Performance capture unit
Rigging gaffer, Performance capture unit
Best boy, Performance capture unit
Key grip, Performance capture unit
Best boy grip, Performance capture unit
Grip, Performance capture unit
Key rigging grip, Performance capture unit
Best boy rigging grip, Performance capture unit
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Prod des
Character des
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir
Concept artist/Matte painter
Concept artist/Matte painter
Concept artist/Matte painter
Concept artist/Matte painter
Concept artist/Matte painter
Concept artist/Matte painter
Concept artist/Matte painter
Concept artist/Matte painter
Illustrator
Illustrator
Illustrator
Illustrator
CG des
CG des
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Model maker
Model maker
Model maker
Model maker
Model maker
Coord
Storyboard coord
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Addl char des
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Negative cutter
Negative coord
Negative handling
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set des
Set des
Set des
Set des
Set des
Buyer
Leadperson
Set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
Staff asst
Prop master, Performance capture unit
Asst prop master, Performance capture unit
Specialty props, Performance capture unit
Const coord, Performance capture unit
Foreman, Performance capture unit
Foreman, Performance capture unit
Foreman, Performance capture unit
Foreman, Performance capture unit
Foreman, Performance capture unit
Toolman, Performance capture unit
On set const team, Performance capture unit
On set const team, Performance capture unit
Gang boss, Performance capture unit
Gang boss, Performance capture unit
Gang boss, Performance capture unit
Welder, Performance capture unit
Welder, Performance capture unit
Welder, Performance capture unit
Welder, Performance capture unit
Welder, Performance capture unit
Welder, Performance capture unit
Propmaker, Performance capture unit
Propmaker, Performance capture unit
Propmaker, Performance capture unit
Propmaker, Performance capture unit
Laborer, Performance capture unit
Painter, Performance capture unit
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv, Performance capture unit
Cost illustrator, Performance capture unit
Key cost, Performance capture unit
Key cost, Performance capture unit
Set cost, Performance capture unit
Set cost, Performance capture unit
Set cost, Performance capture unit
Mr. Hank's cost, Performance capture unit
Cutter/Fitter, Performance capture unit
Tailor, Performance capture unit
Ager/Dyer, Performance capture unit
Cost PA, Performance capture unit
MUSIC
Orig songs
Orig songs/Mus score comp and cond by
Mus ed
Asst mus ed
Mus rec mixer
Mus score programming
Mus contractor
Vocal contractor
Song eng
Song eng
Song coord
Song coord
SOUND
Sd des/Re-rec mixer, Skywalker Sound
Prod sd mixer, Performance capture unit
Boom op, Performance capture unit
2d boom op, Performance capture unit
Post prod sd services
a Lucasfilm Ltd. Company, Marin County, California
Re-rec mixer, Skywalker Sound
Re-rec mixer, Skywalker Sound
Supv sd ed, Skywalker Sound
Dial supv, Skywalker Sound
Dial ed, Skywalker Sound
Sd eff ed, Skywalker Sound
Sd eff ed, Skywalker Sound
Foley ed, Skywalker Sound
Foley ed, Skywalker Sound
Asst sd des, Skywalker Sound
Asst supv sd ed, Skywalker Sound
Asst ADR ed, Skywalker Sound
Asst sd eff ed, Skywalker Sound
Asst dial ed, Skywalker Sound
Foley artist, Skywalker Sound
Foley artist, Skywalker Sound
Foley artist, Skywalker Sound
ADR mixer, Skywalker Sound
ADR rec, Skywalker Sound
Foley mixer, Skywalker Sound
Foley rec, Skywalker Sound
Rec, Skywalker Sound
Rec, Skywalker Sound
Loop group
Microphone booms provided by
VISUAL EFFECTS
Senior visual eff supv
Senior visual eff supv
Visual eff prod
Digital prod
Digital eff supv
Digital eff supv
Digital eff supv
Digital eff supv
Visual eff art dir
Visual eff art dir
ImageMotion supv
ImageMotion integration supv
Look development supv
Environment modeling supv
Character modeling supv
Character set-up supv
Digital visual concept consultant
Imageworks DPM
Imageworks DPM
Imageworks DPM
Visual eff ed
Spec eff coord, Performance capture unit
Spec eff foreman, Performance capture unit
Spec eff tech, Performance capture unit
Spec eff tech, Performance capture unit
Opticals
Imageworks pipleline supv
Shader
Texture set-up
Texture set-up
Wheels set-up
Color and lighting ATD
Color and lighting ATD
Color and lighting ATD
Color and lighting ATD
Color and lighting ATD
Color and lighting ATD
Color and lighting ATD
Color and lighting ATD
ImageMotion tracking lead
ImageMotion tracking lead
ImageMotion tracking lead
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
ImageMotion tracking
Resource mgr
Digital coord
Digital coord
Digital coord
Digital coord
Digital coord
Digital coord
Digital coord
Digital coord
Digital coord
Digital coord
Digital coord
Accountant
Asst visual eff ed
Asst visual eff ed
ImageMotion shoot prod
ImageMotion PM
ImageMotion coord
ImageMotion asst shoot supv
ImageMotion systems op
Prod services tech lead
Prod services tech lead
Prod services tech lead
Prod services tech
Prod services tech
Prod services tech
Prod services tech
Prod services tech
Prod services tech
Prod services tech
Prod services tech
Prod services tech
Prod services tech
Digital intermediate col
Digital intermediate supv
Digital intermediate coord
Res and reference photog
Res and reference photog
Pipeline prod
Pipeline eng
Pipeline eng
Pipeline eng
Pipeline eng
Film rec supv
Film rec
Film rec
Film rec
Systems eng
Systems eng
Systems eng
Systems eng
Systems eng
Systems res and development
Systems res and development
Systems res and development
Software eng
Software eng
Software eng
Software eng
Software eng
Software eng
Software eng
Addl tools development
Software eng
Prod, Look development
Digital prod, Look development
DPM, Look development
APM, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Artist prod supv, Look development
Senior supv, Look development
Senior supv, Look development
Addl motion capture services, Look development
3D scanning, Look development
Addl motion capture hardware and software, Look de
Addl motion capture hardware and software, Look de
Addl motion capture hardware and software, Look de
Locomotive adv, Look development
Puppet consultant, Look development
DANCE
Choreog
Asst choreog, Performance capture unit
MAKEUP
Tom Hank's make-up artist, Performance capture uni
Key make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Make-up artist, Performance capture unit
Wigs by, Performance capture unit
Hair des, Performance capture unit
Key hair stylist, Performance capture unit
Asst hair stylist, Performance capture unit
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod video supv
Accountant
Scr supv, Performance capture unit
Video cam reference, Performance capture unit
Digital playback, Performance capture unit
Key video op, Performance capture unit
Video op, Performance capture unit
Video op, Performance capture unit
Database asst, Performance capture unit
Video asst, Performance capture unit
Prosthetics supplied by, Performance capture unit
Prod coord, Performance capture unit
Asst prod coord, Performance capture unit
Prod secy, Performance capture unit
Staff asst, Performance capture unit
Staff asst, Performance capture unit
Staff asst, Performance capture unit
Staff asst, Performance capture unit
Unit pub, Performance capture unit
1st asst accountant, Performance capture unit
Asst prod accountant, Performance capture unit
Asst prod accountant, Performance capture unit
Accounting clerk, Performance capture unit
Addl casting, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Zemeckis, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Zemeckis, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Zemeckis, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Starkey, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Starkey, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Goetzman, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Goetzman, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Hanks, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Hanks, Performance capture unit
Asst to Mr. Rapke, Performance capture unit
Casting asst, Performance capture unit
Key set asst, Performance capture unit
Set asst, Performance capture unit
Set asst, Performance capture unit
Studio teacher, Performance capture unit
Studio teacher, Performance capture unit
Transportation coord, Performance capture unit
Transportation office coord, Performance capture u
Driver, Performance capture unit
Driver, Performance capture unit
Driver, Performance capture unit
Driver, Performance capture unit
Driver, Performance capture unit
Driver, Performance capture unit
Driver, Performance capture unit
Driver, Performance capture unit
Catering, Performance capture unit
Craft service, Performance capture unit
STAND INS
Additional adult performers
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
[and]
Stunts
Motion capture model, Performance capture understu
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
Motion capture model
ANIMATION
Anim supv
Anim pipeline supv
Layout supv
Cloth and hair supv
Eff anim supv
Matte painting supv
Layout lead
Layout lead
ImageMotion integration lead
ImageMotion integration lead
ImageMotion integration lead
ImageMotion integration lead
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
ImageMotion integration
Char anim lead
Char anim lead
Char anim lead
Char anim lead
Char anim lead
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Char anim pipeline
Cloth and hair lead
Cloth and hair lead
Cloth and hair lead
Cloth and hair lead
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Cloth and hair
Eff anim lead
Eff anim lead
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Seq lighting supv
Seq lighting supv
Seq lighting supv
Seq lighting supv
Seq lighting supv
Seq lighting supv
Seq lighting supv
Seq lighting supv
Col and lighting lead
Col and lighting lead
Col and lighting
Col and lighting lead
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Col and lighting
Matte painting
Matte painting
Matte painting
Matte painting
Matte painting
Matte painting
Pre-visualization lead
Pre-visualization lead
Pre-visualization
Pre-visualization
Pre-visualization
Wheels
Wheels
Environment and prop modeling
Environment and prop modeling
Environment and prop modeling
Environment and prop modeling
Environment and prop modeling
Environment and prop modeling
Char modeling lead
Char modeling
Char modeling
Char modeling
Char set-up lead
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Char set-up
Shader lead
Shader lead
Look development lead
Look development
Look development
Look development
Look development
Look development
Look development
Texture painting lead
Texture painting lead
Texture painting lead
Texture painting
Texture painting
Texture painting
Texture painting
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (Boston, 1985).
SONGS
"The Polar Express," written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri
"Spirit of the Season," written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri, performed by Alan Silvestri
"Hot Chocolate," written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri, performed by Tom Hanks
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SONGS
"The Polar Express," written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri
"Spirit of the Season," written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri, performed by Alan Silvestri
"Hot Chocolate," written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri, performed by Tom Hanks
"Winter Wonderland," written by Felix Bernard and Dick Smith, performed by The Andrews Sisters, courtesy of Geffen Records, under license from Universal Music Enterprises
"When Christmas Comes to Town," written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri, performed by Matthew Hall and Meagan Moore
"Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)," written by Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman, performed by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters, courtesy of Geffen Records, under license from Universal Music Enterprises
"Silver Bells," written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, performed by Kate Smith, courtesy of The RCA Records Label, under license from BMG Film & TV Music
"Deck the Halls," performed by Mario Lanza, courtesy of BMG Classics, under license from BMG Film & TV Music
"It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas," written by Meredith Willson, performed by Perry Como, courtesy of the RCA Records Label, under license from BMG Film & TV Music
"Frosty the Snowman," written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins, performed by Red Foley, courtesy of Geffen Records, under license from Universal Music Enterprises
"I'll Be Home for Christmas," written by Walter Kent, Kim Gannon and Buck Ram
"White Christmas," written by Irving Berlin, performed by Bing Crosby, courtesy of Geffen Records, under license from Universal Music Enterprises
"Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, performed by Frank Sinatra, courtesy of Columbia Records, by arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
"Rockin' on Top of the World," written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri, performed by Steven Tyler, Steven Tyler appears courtesy of Columbia Records
"Believe," written and produced by Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri, performed by Josh Groban, Josh Groban appears courtesy of 143 Records/Reprise Records.
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DETAILS
Release Date:
10 November 2004
Premiere Information:
Premiered 7 November 2004 in Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles and New York openings: 10 November 2004
Production Date:
21 March -- late April 2003 in Los Angeles, CA
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc.
Copyright Date:
11 January 2005
Copyright Number:
PA1250537
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby® Digital in selected theatres; dts®; SDDS Sony Dynamic Digital Sound in selected theatres
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Animation
Duration(in mins):
99
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
41220
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On Christmas Eve in 1950s Grand Rapids, Michigan, the hero boy wakes, hoping to assuage his disbelief about the existence of Santa Claus. The boy feigns sleep when his parents come to his bedside, but he overhears them observe that his magical beliefs are waning. The boy’s father claims that not even a steam engine could wake his son, but as soon as he leaves the room, the boy is roused by the roar of a train. Rushing outside, the boy is invited aboard the Polar Express by its conductor and rides away in a snow flurry. Inside the train, the boy discovers a car filled with pajama-clad youngsters and is surprised to discover a gold round-trip ticket inside his bathrobe pocket. After the conductor punches the children’s tickets with two letters, the train stops for an impoverished, lonely boy named Billy, but leaves without him, prompting the hero boy to pull the emergency brake. As Billy boards and sits alone in an adjacent car, the conductor calls dancing waiters to serve hot chocolate to the other children. The hero girl, a pretty African American child, saves a cup for Billy and is whisked away by the conductor to give it to him, but the hero boy realizes that she left her unpunched ticket behind. When the boy grabs the ticket and goes after his friend, the ticket flies away, but it eventually flutters back to the train. Meanwhile, the conductor returns with the girl, but takes her away again because she does not have her pass; however, the hero boy recovers the ticket and chases after them. Climbing ... +


On Christmas Eve in 1950s Grand Rapids, Michigan, the hero boy wakes, hoping to assuage his disbelief about the existence of Santa Claus. The boy feigns sleep when his parents come to his bedside, but he overhears them observe that his magical beliefs are waning. The boy’s father claims that not even a steam engine could wake his son, but as soon as he leaves the room, the boy is roused by the roar of a train. Rushing outside, the boy is invited aboard the Polar Express by its conductor and rides away in a snow flurry. Inside the train, the boy discovers a car filled with pajama-clad youngsters and is surprised to discover a gold round-trip ticket inside his bathrobe pocket. After the conductor punches the children’s tickets with two letters, the train stops for an impoverished, lonely boy named Billy, but leaves without him, prompting the hero boy to pull the emergency brake. As Billy boards and sits alone in an adjacent car, the conductor calls dancing waiters to serve hot chocolate to the other children. The hero girl, a pretty African American child, saves a cup for Billy and is whisked away by the conductor to give it to him, but the hero boy realizes that she left her unpunched ticket behind. When the boy grabs the ticket and goes after his friend, the ticket flies away, but it eventually flutters back to the train. Meanwhile, the conductor returns with the girl, but takes her away again because she does not have her pass; however, the hero boy recovers the ticket and chases after them. Climbing to the roof of the speeding engine, the boy finds a hobo sitting beside a campfire who claims to be the king of the North Pole, and the boy confesses that he is unsure about Santa Claus. The hobo chides the boy for not believing then saves his life by skiing across the train’s roof as they approach a low tunnel. When the boy lands in the engine’s coal pile, he finds the hero girl who reports that the conductor is letting her drive while Smokey, the engineer, and Steamer, the fire stoker, change the train’s headlight. As the fixture is inserted, Smokey and Steamer see danger ahead and order the girl to stop the train, but she is unsure which lever is the brake. The boy pulls the right handle and the train screeches to a halt just before hitting a vast herd of caribou. Although Smokey complains that the tracks are impassable, the conductor pulls Steamer’s beard, provoking a wail that sends the caribou away. The train moves ahead but the brake’s cotter pin falls off and the engine plummets down treacherous slopes and slips off its icy tracks. Smokey and Steamer recover the pin, but the ice cracks beneath the train and the conductor navigates the engine to safety through a narrow fissure in the mountainside. Meanwhile, the girl’s missing ticket flies out of her friend’s pocket and she gives it to the conductor. On their way back to their seats, the children find a train car filled with used toys and a marionette operated by the hobo accuses the boy of being a scrooge. Sometime later, the friends overhear Billy singing that he has never experienced the joy of Christmas and they encourage him to have hope. As the Northern Lights appear, the conductor reports that they have arrived at their destination: the North Pole. Thousands of elves convene around a towering Christmas tree in the town square and the children line up to see Santa, but the hero boy and girl notice Billy waiting on the train. Eager for Billy to join them, the friends get back on board, but the hero boy accidentally steps on a release valve and the engine speeds away. The hobo reappears and guides the boy to an emergency brake before vanishing and the train screeches to a halt in an underground station. Searching for a way back to the town square, the hero girl leads her friends across a narrow bridge and into the elves’ gift factory. There, elves watch hundreds of black and white televisions that project images of sleeping children but soon a “Naughty” sign flashes, signaling the misdeeds of a little boy in New Jersey. The elf general forgives the boy’s behavior and guides his minions onto a pneumatic vehicle as the children secretly follow. The vehicle propels them into an abandoned gift-wrapping factory, where Billy is delighted to discover a present addressed to him. He chases it on a conveyer belt and his friends follow. After sliding down a ramp, the children land on top of an enormous pile of gifts. The presents, along with the children, are lifted into the air in a red bag and dropped onto Santa’s sleigh in the town square. There, the friends are reunited with the conductor as crowds of elves rejoice and hitch reindeer to the sleigh. Santa appears in the distance, but the hero boy is unable to catch a glimpse; however, a bell flies off the sleigh and lands at the boy’s feet. Vowing to believe in Santa, the boy rings the bell and sees Santa in its reflection. When the boy returns the bell, Santa commends the other children for their virtues but selects the hero boy to be the recipient of the first gift. The crowd cheers as the boy steps onto the sleigh and whispers his Christmas wish into Santa’s ear. Santa presents the boy with the bell, telling him that it represents the spirit of the season. As the clock strikes twelve, Santa rides away with the bag of gifts and the elves celebrate. Meanwhile, the children board the Polar Express and the conductor punches their tickets, completing the words he started at the beginning of the journey. The hero boy’s letters spell out “believe.” After taking his seat, the boy is devastated to discover that Santa’s bell fell out of his robe pocket. Sometime later, the train stops at Billy’s house and he is delighted to find the gift from Santa’s factory. At the next stop, the hero boy bids farewell to his friends and they console him over the lost bell. Watching the engine roll away, the boy sees the hobo sitting on its rooftop disappear into a flurry of snow. The next morning, on Christmas day, the boy is awakened by his sister, Sarah, who revels in her gifts and finds one last present hidden underneath the tree. The boy opens it to discover the bell and a note from Santa, saying that he found the bell that evening in his sleigh. Although the boy’s parents admire the bell, only the boy can hear it ringing. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.