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Legacy Review

The Polar Express (2004)

It’s one thing to be ugly. Plenty of decent movies aren’t all that great to look at. It’s another thing to be gobsmackingly ugly when your raison d’etre is your groundbreaking visuals.

The uncanny valley of the characters in The Polar Express needs no introduction at this point. They’ve been turned into a million memes — not to mention a million nightmares. What you might not remember is that it’s not just the people: Everything looks like horseshit. This movie has several long sections that are motion sickness-inducing thrill ride gimmicks; these are technical demonstrations where proper filmmaking should reside. The color scheme is drowned in dull grays and nighttime blues, creating an overly chilly mood that never quite lifts.

It’s a bit of a shame because there are segments that really work. There’s a dream logic to The Polar Express, a gnawing itch that things aren’t quite right. The disorienting emotional texture of these best moments — the rooftop chase, for example — feels half nightmarish, half whimsical, a perfect tone that the movie cannot sustain for most of its runtime.

The story is padded and wandering, but that’s not inherently a flaw for a fable like this. What’s more problematic is that the characters range from bland to blood-curdlingly off-putting (that one know-it-all kid).

Perhaps this film deserves more credit for advancing the technology, for trying something new and taking risks. But if I’m judging it based simply on what my eyes tell me, The Polar Express is a disaster.

Is It Good?

Not Good (2/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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