Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bipolar Express

We watched the movie Polar Express last night, and I confess I spent most of it going, “Wha?” I did not enjoy it, and I’m a big fan of kids’ movies -- when they’re well-done. Granted, I did not read the book, mostly because the illustrations didn’t appeal to me; I’m guessing that reading it would have at least cleared up some of my confusion, because confusion there was.

To begin with, this strange conductor shows up in the middle of night and carts kids away, supposedly going to the North Pole. Okay. It’s a kids’ movie, I’ll stifle my adult urge to scream, “Don’t go with the pedophile, kid!” and go along with it.

After picking up the main character, the "hero" (who is not heroic or even particularly interesting), they pick up some little poor kid who has to sit in the back train car by himself. What is up with that?! He has to sit alone, in a train car that is precariously attached to the rest of the train, where it looks cold and dark, and doesn't even get offered refreshments? I suppose that was a gimmick to show the heroic qualities of the two hero characters, but it just seemed excessively cruel to me. And did I mention gimmicky?

Then there was the ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing) frustration with the ticket, the incredibly dangerous train ride, and the surprisingly inept crew. I mean, wouldn't you think Santa would have the best? The conductor seemed bipolar, the engineer was clumsy and slow, and the guy helping the engineer (not sure what his function was) was like a character out of Dogpatch.

The staff who brought the hot chocolate seemed magical, pouring scalding hot chocolate into cups from yards away while they twirled and sang à la Disney. But then the train ride itself was one ridiculous and dangerous mishap after another. Where was the magic then? I guess the kitchen staff got it all.

Then there was this mysterious hobo character who was there, but then not there, saving other characters now and then. I found him strange and off-putting. He was clearly a gimmick (again), put there just to save characters when they needed it, but why? It seems like any other kind of character could have worked just as well, if not better. This character was mysterious to the point of eeriness. Maybe it was intended as a Homeless-Person-As-Hero Don't-Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Cover sort of lesson? I suspect this is one instance in which the book could help me out.

When they finally got to the North Pole, our protagonists of course managed to get lost because they were DOING THE RIGHT THING (in a very clumsy way), but then of course ended up, despite themselves, where they were supposed to be anyway. Again, Santa's whole operation seemed to be inefficient and bumbling, though one near tragic mishap was -- again, of course -- stopped at the last minute and the conductor said something about the whole operation being a "well-oiled machine." A well-oiled near death trap, you mean.

Then Santa finally came out after much Jonestown-like singing and chanting by thousands of elves all dressed alike, making them disturbingly uniform from a distance, like an army of Christmas Orcs. The elves they showed up close were out-and-out creepy-looking. One might even go so far as to say evil-looking. One of the elves spoke to the poor boy, saying "Trust me" in this sinister serial-killer way, sort of winking like he's a good-natured pirate who really can't be trusted but is charming so you give in anyway. But the elf was supposedly actually trustworthy. So, Mr. Zemeckis, why make him seem sinister and shifty?

Santa was dull and not really on-screen for long and made a big point of saying how he was a symbol of Christmas. Not heavy-handed at all, no. And of course he chose Our Hero for the First Gift of Christmas, though the "hero" hadn’t earned it in any way I could see. Oh, wait, he believed. With all of the proof right in front of him, he took the brave step of believing. Yes, I get it now.

I realize this movie is intended for children and most may have loved it, but I thought it was contrived, ran much too long, suffered from logic gaps that bright children will spot easily, was mostly boring though interspersed with somewhat violent parts that I think would scare young children, and overall, was just downright unsettling.

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