It seems odd that of all the Christmas stories I experienced as a child, the most magical one wasn't about a flight in a slay, a ride on a donkey, or even a romp with a snowman...it was about a ride on a train called The Polar Express. I remember hearing the story the first time in grade school and being completely enchanted by it. It was a wholly original tale that reinforced my belief in Santa Claus for yet another year and made me completely certain that, if I happened to be awake at the right time on Christmas Eve, that I might get to make a trip to the North Pole. Christmas Fable by Chris Van Alisburg captured the childhood wonder and the mystery of Christmas perfectly and taught us to simply believe...regardless of what people tell us about it. It insists that Christmas is about a feeling, and that its not nearly as magical or fun without that feeling. I recall having a dream after reading the book that involved me going on the Polar Express myself...it was almost like being there. From that moment on, I dreamed that someday there would be a movie of it and as I grew, my inner child held onto that dream for a long time.
In 2004, Robert Zemeckis released an animated film using motion capture computer animation technology. His choice for the story of the project was Alisburg's book and thus...The Polar Express was born. The film takes the story of the book and expands it slightly in several places so that it can sustain a feature-length timeframe...but the plot remains the same. It tells the story of a young boy who is given an extraordinary adventure at a crucial moment in his development. He has begun to doubt Santa's existence and before he can make a decision about it, he finds himself whisked away by a magic train called The Polar Express so that he can visit the North Pole and see Santa. This film was a pretty big deal for me then (I always thought it would make a great movie)...though it would have been a bigger deal if it had come out sooner...like when I was still a kid. The film itself isn't bad, its quite cute actually. But it doesn't have the same magical quality that came with the book when I first read it. It may be that there's something in the book that the film just didn't know how to capture...or maybe, unlike the boy in the story, I've gotten too old to believe in magic anymore. As I watch the film now, however, I still have a fond feeling for it that goes deep to the core. It must be my inner child's refusal to ignore a treasured Christmas memory. Can you blame him? Some days, he still wants to believe in Santa Claus...my inner adult tries to tell him how silly that is...but he doesn't care. Santa isn't about logic or reason...he's about magic (if you'll excuse the cliche) and that's language my inner child understands.