Customer Review

770 of 877 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless and True Spirit of Christmas, November 10, 2004
I went to see this movie tonight with a mentally handicapped friend - "Michael" -- (from a L'Arche home here in Winnipeg, Canada). We were the first persons in the theatre for the very first evening showing in this city - and we were the last to leave. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves - enchanted by the movie's subtleties and happily exhausted by its roller-coaster rides.

Time and again, Michael (who is sensitive, compassionate and with a good sense of humor) turned to me in the darkness, smiling in appreciation at the exact same moments I turned to see his reactions. Each time this happened, it was at a moment in the film when some little detail, perfectly captured through superb 'cinematography,' brought moisture to my normally cynical eye, and a warm smile to Michael's innocent face.

Some examples: There is a lone, black child on this apparent 'dream train' to the North Pole - a girl of about ten or eleven years, and like a painting come to life, the miraculous technology at work in this film captures the particular sensibilities of this compassionate, black youngster --- We see small mannerisms of someone comfortable with herself in a way the other (ten or so) white kids on the train are not. And the effect is profound --- the movie audience, including some children of that same age group, went silent at such moments in the film.

My friend Michael - who has a 'savant' genius for perceiving my emotions, and expressing them for me out loud in public --- Michael turned to me with a delighted smile when the girl on the train reaches out to hold the hands of the poorest boy, sitting alone in the rear compartment; and later, she hugs two other boys, (one of them the central character) --- at their final parting. At that moment I held up a finger to my lips to try to hush Michael, but couldn't prevent him from saying aloud: "She's such a sweetheart." There were murmurs of appreciation in the darkness around us, responding to this innocent sentiment.

There is a sublime moment, on the back platform of the moving train -- the Northern Lights glimmering in the distance -- when the young girl joins in song with the poorest kid on the train (a younger boy from a dilapidated home on the "far side of the tracks"). I admit to being overcome with emotion during this duet (a lovely, strong melody with poignant lyrics) - and I blurted out loud to Michael, after the first chorus: "What a wonderful song!" The refrain includes the words "When Christmas comes to town." [It's a song so good that, with some future 'cover versions' by serious musicians who could do it justice --- this "Christmas Comes to Town" song could, I believe, deservedly join the small list of true, Christmas 'classics.']

I'd have to agree with anyone who thinks this movie is a little short on plot. And yet . . . once you've suspended disbelief -- beginning with an earth-shattering, Christmas-eve arrival of a steam-puffing, passenger train on a small-town Michigan street, directly outside the home of the movie's central character -- once we've swallowed that premise, the movie disarmingly embraces the child in us, (including our fears) and our reservations vanish without our noticing.

Just as great `realistic' painters, (think Rembrandt or Vermeer) worked wonders of light & shadow that no mere photograph could ever capture, so too this computer-animated marvel takes your breath away through an accumulation of tiny but acute observations that could never be captured by conventional cinematography. Prime examples from the opening scenes:

A shaft of light illuminates the boy's bedroom, and he is reflected in a chrome, automobile hubcap leaning against a wall; at once we share his view -- through the keyhole of his bedroom door - we can see only the backs and the dressing gowns of mother and father, as they say goodnight to the boy's young sister, after determining the state of her belief in Santa's existence - a belief no longer shared by the older brother, whose eye is at the keyhole.

Later, on the train, there's an exquisite close up of the boy's face, a slight blemish above the pores on his upper right cheek; the `camera' pans in rotation, capturing perfectly, the texture of the boy's hair, and that of the young black girl sitting beside him -- subtleties of such perfection one wonders if the unique, artistic accomplishment of "Polar Express" could ever be surpassed.

The film's last scene, consists entirely of a close-up view of a small, silver bell (of the type associated with sleigh rides) with its attached 'ribbon' of red leather. The little bell helps make the final point about `Belief' --- in things unseen, (or forgotten, and thus inaccessible to some adults). So simple, so powerful, so enlightening an image. My friend Michael turned to me at that moment, with a radiant smile. And we just shook our heads in awe.


Yes, this movie must have SOME shortcomings - one or two moments that don't quite work as intended by the creators. But right now, in the afterglow, I can't recall what they were. The film was just too satisfying an experience!

I'm a 57-year-old grandfather who happens to believe that "The Polar Express" is the first, true Christmas classic in almost 60 years. Not since the original Kris Kringle "Miracle" movie of 1947, has any film (to my jaded eye) so transcended our secular, commercial views of the Holiday Season, with such uplifting and fresh reminders of the timeless and true spirit of Christmas.

Mark Blackburn

Winnipeg Canada.
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Tracked by 5 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 27 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 3, 2006 8:46:13 PM PST
bruch hshem (G'D bless) michael i too am mentally handicaped and bruch hshsem (G'D bless) you Mark for your compassionate heart to your friend Michael for taking him to a nice movie,

Posted on Dec 3, 2006 8:39:00 AM PST
Thank you Mark and Michael for opening my eyes to what I missed in my jaded first viewing, I would love to view it through Michael's child like eyes, Mark, thank you for your compassion, you are truly a saint.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 11, 2006 7:10:25 PM PST
Dear Paul Andrew Haried,

Your note means so much to me -- to know that my review touched your heart in this way. I'm honored by your kind words, Paul -- and greatly appreciate your taking the time to write. God bless you Paul. Know that you are in my prayers now too! Sincerely, Mark Blackburn

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 11, 2006 7:19:08 PM PST
Dear Al W. Pittman,

You could not pay any reviewer a higher compliment than that, Al. My sincere thanks for taking the time to let me know how you felt about it. Aren't we lucky to be able to write reviews for the world's biggest website? You meet the nicest people here!
Many thanks again, Al. Sincerely, Mark Blackburn

Posted on Jan 21, 2007 3:15:59 AM PST
klmr13 says:
I don't know which I enjoyed more...your review of the movie or your sweetness and sensitivity!

I saw this movie for the first time on TV during the past Christmas season ('06), and was totally involved in it from the moment the train pulled in. I watched it alone, but wished I had been able to share the experience with was so wonderful to be a kid again for a while. Thank you to Mark and Michael!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2007 6:48:04 AM PST
Dear K. (Kim?) Reilly,

On behalf of Michael -- thank you for your kind words, which remind us that -- like a good meal -- a good movie is best enjoyed in the company of friends and loved ones! Just wanted you to know I shall read your note to Michael next time we take in a movie . . . which will be soon!


Mark Blackburn
Winnipeg Manitoba Canada

Posted on Mar 22, 2007 8:16:30 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 27, 2007 1:22:13 PM PDT]

Posted on Mar 22, 2007 9:56:23 AM PDT
Mark: Yes indeed, quite a quality review. You captured the essence of the movie succinctly.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2007 9:03:21 PM PST
Carolyn says:
I love this review

Posted on Dec 5, 2009 3:24:57 PM PST
Sandra Jude says:
I would mirror the others who left comments here. I'm not sure if I enjoyed the movie or your review more. You definitely are an incredible writer!

It's wonderful to have viewed this movie through my children's eyes as you viewed it through "Michael's." This movie is a most have for your collection, my children insist on watching throughout the year!

S. Jude
Indianapolis, IN
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Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada

Top Reviewer Ranking: 54,475