Forget Christmas cheer - kids will run screaming from The Polar Express after seeing Tom Hanks looking like he's been killed, embalmed and resurrected by lightening. In reality, it's the work of director Robert Zemeckis, using state-of-the-art motion-capture technology to adapt Chris Van Allsburg's fairytale about a magical train and its pint-sized passengers headed to meet Santa. Besides its dead-eyed cast, this 'animated' escapade is thrown off the tracks by pointless detours seemingly intended just to stretch the journey time.
On Christmas Eve a sceptical boy (Tom Hanks) awaits a fat man in a red suit when an enchanted train pulls up below his window and a mysterious conductor (Hanks again) invites him to a shindig at the North Pole. He climbs aboard to join a shrewd little girl (Nona M Gaye), a loud-mouthed brat (Eddie Deezen) and an introverted loner (Peter Scolari) on a white-knuckle ride, negotiating frozen lakes, mountain-top bends, and roller-coaster plunges into yawning valleys. Still, the boy's biggest fear is that it's all just a dream.
"YOU'LL BE DROOLING, ASLEEP IN YOUR POPCORN"
Certainly the backdrops have an ethereal quality and the way the camera whips through them is breathtaking. A long, unbroken shot following a lost train ticket as it coasts on the breeze will leave your jaw slack. But soon you'll be drooling, asleep in your popcorn as it becomes clear the story isn't going anywhere.
One misadventure leads to another without a clear train of thought and no genuine sense of who the characters are. Hanks' incarnation as a ghostly hobo proves especially mystifying while his spooky conductor would be more at home in one of Tim Burton's nightmares. Besides looking sinister, the children's only detectable purpose is to "ooh" and "ahh" at appropriate junctures. Yes, it all looks spectacular, but The Polar Express is on a fast-track to the Land of Nod.