Yes, Tom Hanks, there is a Santa Claus

Magic comes to the movie theater, and it all sounds very familiar

Claire Joseph

Many films start out as award-winning books. But they aren’t usually picture books.

Chris Van Allsburg’s popular children’s Christmas story, “The Polar Express,” is one movie that takes on the challenge of adapting a picture book with style. The transfer is realized through state-of-the-art computer animation.

“The Polar Express” is about a young boy (Tom Hanks) who begins to doubt the reality of Santa Claus (Tom Hanks). On Christmas Eve, the boy waits in bed hoping to hear the bells of Santa’s sleigh.

Instead, he hears the sound of the Polar Express. The train is supervised by the Conductor (Tom Hanks) who informs the boy that the Polar Express will take him to the North Pole.

On his journey to Santa’s home, the boy regains his holiday spirit, something that, according to the story, most people lose and never find again.

It’s hard to argue against the fact that author Van Allsburg has created a holiday jewel, a story that has remained a Christmas classic since its creation in 1985.

Director Robert Zemeckis has the advantage of a good story but meets the challenge of converting 15 pages of pictures and a few hundred words into a full-length film without straying too far from the book’s holiday theme of “believe.”

Zemeckis’ task was to create a feature-length film without losing the story’s charm. Any additions to the film, regardless of their possible cinematic advantages, risk alienating readers of this beloved book.

Zemeckis solves this problem with ease.

With film quality good enough for the IMAX Theater (“The Polar Express” is playing in 3-D at the IMAX Theater at

the Minnesota Zoo as well as mainstream theaters), images jump out of the book and come alive. Impressive scenes filled with pacing wolves, train-malfunction terror and roller-coaster-ride motion make “The Polar Express” exciting and, at times, even gripping.

Zemeckis enhances the compelling plot with Hanks’ voice. Hanks brings to life five of the animated characters in “The Polar Express,” giving them each a personality and a life of their own.

The simple values of both the book and the movie create something innocent to believe in. And that’s something everybody, at every age, can use.

“The Polar Express”

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Tom Hanks, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye and Peter Scolari

Rated: G