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We happen upon a scene: Four-year-old Erin, in a cinema in Accrington, watching The Polar Express for the first time.
That Christmas she receives a beautiful Christmas bell just like the one in the film and it does truly feel like all her Christmases have come at once.
Sixteen years later, The Polar Express is still as magical to me as it was then, which leads me to this conclusion – The Polar Express is the best Christmas film out there, and I will tell you why.
Sure, there are films like It’s A Wonderful Life, Home Alone and Elf, all commendable choices, but there is something about The Polar Express that succeeds in swelling my heart with Christmas spirit as each year goes by.
It is a film that truly is timeless – as a kid, you’re excited – the wait for Christmas Eve and a late-night adventure without your parents where dancing waiters bring you delicious hot chocolate and you get to meet Santa Claus, isn’t that every kids dream?
It is impossible to deny the darkly magical atmosphere that permeates every second of The Polar Express. It is clear that Van Allsburg’s iconic illustrations are well re-created in the hands of director, Robert Zemeckis; the warmth inside the train car contrasts perfectly with the ominous darkness of Christmas Eve night. Beholding the North Pole is spectacular when the children reach its centre, and dreadful as they traverse the empty, dimly-lit city streets surrounding it.
But even in my twenties, the film still excites and has a profound impact on me. Firstly, with the feature of Tom Hanks. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Forrest Gump and how much I love Tom Hanks so any film that includes him already has the guarantee of being good before I’ve pressed play.
Secondly, the life lessons that are cleverly worked into the film’s innocent story. To this day, the film will still bring a tear to my eye with its profound messages of friendship, love and, of course, Christmas.
The ultimate takeaway from The Polar Express is not about presents, but about belief and faith, as Tom Hanks’ conductor says;
“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see”.
Even years later, as we grow into cynicism and don’t believe in Santa Claus, or even Christmas anymore, a film like The Polar Express succeeds in renewing that faith, even if just for one night.
The Polar Express leaves me feeling just as wistful and affected as it had when it released sixteen years ago. If you were ever a child who believed with all your heart, or have grown into an adult who wants to recapture that original wonder, there aren’t many films that deserve a recommendation more than this one.