The Polar Express (2004)

Film and Plot Synopsis

In this film based on the classic children’s book by the same name, a boy grows skeptical of the magic of Christmas and the existence of Santa Claus until he is visited by mysterious train called the Polar Express. The train takes the boy, and several other children, to the North Pole to see Santa Claus. Along the way, the skeptical boy makes a new group of friends and encounters wonders and magic that cause him to question what he truly believes.

‘The Polar Express’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
The Polar Express (2004)It is the night of Christmas Eve in the snowy suburbs of some unknown American town. A young boy (Daryl Sabara) struggles to fall asleep as he wrestles with the excitement of Christmas Day and the existence of Santa Claus. The boy has reached the age where he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus any longer, reaching the conclusion that it is an intricate ruse created by his parents (Tom Hanks and Leslie Zemeckis).

Suddenly, the skeptical boy hears a loud noise coming from the street outside his home. The boy grabs his robe, tearing a hole in its pocket, and heads outside. Once outside, he finds a mysterious steam locomotive waiting in front of his house. The conductor (Tom Hanks) approaches the boy and explains that the train is the Polar Express bound for the North Pole and inquires whether the skeptical boy is going to get on. Initially reluctant, the skeptical boy jumps aboard as the train begins to pull away.

The train is filled with excited children, including an enthusiastic girl (Nona Gaye) and a know-it-all boy (Eddie Deezen). Before the train leaves the skeptical boy’s town, it stops to pick up a lonely boy named Billy (Jimmy Bennett). Billy is reluctant to get on the train, so the conductor signals the engineer to leave. As the train pulls away, Billy changes his mind and runs to catch up to the train. The skeptical boy pulls the emergency brake to stop the train so that Billy can get onboard. Billy doesn’t join the children in the main cab, but instead chooses to sit alone in the observation car. Soon the train staff serve hot chocolate to all the children, and the enthusiastic girl saves a cup for Billy. She and the conductor take the refreshment to Billy in the observation car.

The skeptical boy notices that the girl leaves her un-punched ticket on her seat and grabs it to return it to her. Unfortunately, he loses the ticket between cars and fails to notice that the ticket ultimately returns inside the main cab. When the conductor begins to punch tickets, the skeptical boy admits to losing the girl’s ticket and tries to give her his, but the conductor will not allow it. The conductor takes the girl back to the observation car, and the skeptical boy believes that he is going to throw her off the train. The skeptical boy catches site of the girl’s ticket in the heating duct and grabs it. He follows the conductor and the girl back to the observation car. Billy tells him that they went outside on the top of the train, and the skeptical boy follows them onto the snowy roof.

Once on the roof, the skeptical boy encounters a mysterious hobo (Tom Hanks). The hobo offers the boy a hot cup of coffee and asks about the boy’s belief in Santa Claus and ghosts. As the train approaches a tunnel, the hobo takes the boy and they ski to the front of the train before the Polar Express enters a low clearance tunnel. The hobo drops the boy into the engineering car before mysteriously disappearing into thin air.

Once in the engineering car, the skeptical boy finds the enthusiastic girl at the controls. The girl explains that the conductor brought her to the front and she is driving the train while the two engineers, Steamer and Smokey (André Sogliuzzo and Michael Jeter) work on replacing the headlight. The boy applies the brakes to the train as they approach a herd of caribou blocking the tracks. The conductor returns, concerned for their delay, and realizes the caribou move out of the way when someone pulls Smokey’s long beard, causing the engineer to let out a horrible scream. Smokey and Steamer move the train forward again as the boy, the girl, and the conductor stand on the front of the train. A pin falls out of the throttle causing the train to speed out of control. The train hits a lake that has frozen over the railway, and the train begins to slide out of control. Eventually, the engineers fix the throttle and stop the train on the ice. However, the ice begins to crack and the train once again begins to move to escape falling through the ice. Eventually the train gets back on the tracks and proceeds up a hillside, finally safe from the cracked ice.

The skeptical boy returns the train ticket to the enthusiastic girl and the conductor punches her ticket. The three return to the other children in the main car as the train pulls into the North Pole. The conductor begins to lead the children to the main square at the North Pole which contains a giant Christmas tree. The conductor informs the children that one of the kids will be chosen by Santa himself to receive the first gift of Christmas from the big man in the red suit.

Billy accidentally uncouples the observation car from the main train while the skeptical boy and the enthusiastic girl are aboard, and the car roles back down to the hill to the main station at Santa’s workshop. The three kids begin to work their way back to the main square by going through the elf command center. They find the gift sorting office where Billy sees a present for him, something he has never received before. Billy chases after the present with the skeptical boy and the enthusiastic girl following behind. They end up being dumped in a giant sack of presents as its being loaded onto Santa’s sleigh. They also find the know-it-all boy stowed away in the bag as well, trying to find his Christmas presents.

The elves take the kids out of the bag and collect Billy’s present from him, promising him that they will take good care of it. Suddenly, Santa arrives in the square and everyone cheers with excitement. The skeptical boy struggles to see Santa and cannot hear the bells that adorn Santa’s reindeer. One of the bells falls off and the boy picks it up. The boy finally begins to believe and shakes the bell, which joyously rings for him. Santa comes up behind the boy and chooses him to receive the first gift of Christmas. The boy chooses the bell itself, which Santa laughingly provides to the boy. The boy places the treasured bell into the pocket of his robe, forgetting that it was torn earlier in the night.

The children board the train to return home just as the rear observation car is reconnected to the Polar Express. The other children crowd around the now no longer skeptical boy who reaches into his pocket, but discovers that the bell has fallen out. The train begins to pull away, preventing the kids from disembarking and looking for the bell. The boy sits devastated on the long ride home.

Once home, he says good-bye to his new friends. He awakens on Christmas morning to find a present from Santa under the tree with the note from the big man himself. The note explains that Santa found the bell on the seat of the sleigh and returned it to the boy. The boys’ parents pick up the bell and shake it, but they cannot hear the bell since they no longer believe in the magic of Christmas and Santa Claus. The film ends with the boy, now an adult remembering how his sister and friends all eventually stopped hearing the bell as they grew older, but that the boy continues to hear the ring to this day because he still believes.

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Warner Bros. released The Polar Express on November 10, 2004. Robert Zemeckis directed the film starring Tom Hanks, Chris Coppola, and Michael Jeter.

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