The Polar Express
Polar express
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Robert Zemeckis

Gary Goetzman
Steve Starkey
William Teitler

Written by Robert Zemeckis

William Broyles Jr.

Music by Tom Hanks

Daryl Sabara
Nona Gaye
Peter Scolari
Eddie Deezen
Charles Fleischer
Steven Tyler
Michael Jeter

Cinematography Don Burgess

Robert Presley

Studio R. Orlando Duenas

Jeremiah O'Driscoll

Release date November 10, 2004
Running time 100 minutes
Country United States

The Polar Express is a 2004 motion capture computer-animated fantasy film based on the children's book of the same title by Chris Van Allsburg. Written, produced, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the human characters in the film were animated using live action performance capture technique, with the exception of the waiters who dispense hot chocolate on the train, because their feats were impossible for live actors to achieve. Performance capture technology incorporates the movements of live actors into animated characters. The film stars Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, and Eddie Deezen, with Tom Hanks in six distinct roles. The film also included a performance by Tinashe at age 9, who later gained exposure as a pop singer in 2010, as the CGI-model for "Hero Girl". The film was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone and Golden Mean, for Warner Bros. The visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studio first released the $165 million film in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters on Wednesday, November 10, 2004.


On Christmas Eve, a young boy who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan is hoping for belief in the true spirit of Christmas. He suddenly hears a noise from downstairs and runs to investigate. Seeing a shadow of what appears to be Santa Claus, he soon discovers that it is his parents. He runs back to his room and looks through magazines and encyclopedias for confirmation of Santa Claus and the North Pole, but to no avail. Hearing his parents coming, he runs back to bed and pretends to be asleep while his parents whisper about how he had once stayed up late listening for Santa Claus. After about an hour, he hears rumbling in the distance and his room starts to shake. In his haste to get outside, he accidentally rips open the right pocket of his robe. Once outside, he finds a magical train called the Polar Express. The conductor (played by Tom Hanks) tells him that the train is headed to the North Pole to go to Santa, and that this year is the year that he should board the train. Although he initially hesitates, at the last second as the train is pulling away he decides to board. The train route goes north, first through boreal pine forest, then across tundra, then across the frozen Arctic Ocean, to Polar City on an island, everywhere snowbound. In the tundra, the train had a difficult crossing of an area where flood submerged the track and then froze. On the train, the boy encounters a group of other children who are on their way to see Santa Claus, including a young girl, a know-it-all, and a lonely little boy also from Grand Rapids whose name is Billy. When the conductor asks for tickets from everyone so he can punch them, the boy discovers his ticket is miraculously in his left pocket. The conductor punches two letters into each child's ticket ("BE" for the Hero Boy and "LE" for the know-it-all). However, he forgets to punch the girl's ticket. Then hot chocolate is served, with waiters performing acrobatic jumps and flips to serve everyone while the conductor sings. The girl, however, kept a cup under her seat so she could give it to Billy, who is sitting in the observation car. The conductor catches her, but when she tells him what she was doing, he helps her. The Hero Boy then sees the girl's ticket lying on her seat and, realizing that it wasn't punched, tries to go to the next car to give it to her. However, he loses the ticket in the wind, but unknown to him, the ticket miraculously ends up in a vent in the same car that the boy was in. However, the boy does not realize this, and he tells the conductor that he lost the girls ticket. The conductor then takes the girl up to the roof, and the know-it-all says that she will be thrown off the train. The boy suddenly sees the ticket in the vent, and grabs it just before it slips away. The boy then climbs on the roof to try and stop the conductor. He meets a hobo (the self-proclaimed owner of the train as well as the "King of the North Pole") on the roof, who helps him to get towards the conductor and the girl by skiing as the train goes downhill. The hobo warns the boy that Flattop Tunnel is approaching, and that it only has 1 inch of clearance between the roof of the train and the tunnel itself. They do make it in time, and the boy jumps and lands in the tender. The hobo had disappeared after the boy had jumped. The boy then finds the girl driving the train. She explains that the two people who are supposed to be controlling the train, Smokey the engineer and Steamer the fireman, are trying to fix the light on the train and the conductor let her control. The scene goes to Smokey and Steamer, who manage to repair the light but see a herd of caribou on the tracks. Steamer yells to stop the train and the girl tells the boy that a yellow lever is the brake. He doubts her at first, but at the last second he pulls it, and the train stops in front of the caribou. The conductor comes out, angry at the boy for stopping the train, but the girl says that he was saving them. All three of them go outside, and they see thousands of caribou on the tracks. They tell the caribou to stay off the track by communicating using Smokey's beard (they pull it to make Smokey yell and thus communicate). The train continues on with nothing wrong until they reach a gulch. The conductor tells the boy and girl that the gulch is the steepest in the world and that the train should be slowing, but it is going too fast. They try to warn Smokey and Steamer, but they have their own problems; the cotter pin (British: split pin) functioning the throttle shears off, and they end up riding the gulch at full speed until they stop on an ice field. The cotter pin that Smokey and Steamer lost ends up sticking into the ice, causing the entire ice field to crack, but, with guidance from the conductor, they get the train safely on the tracks again before the ice completely cracks from under the train and the boy safely hands the girl her ticket for the conductor to punch. The throttle is mended using another cotter pin which Smokey was using as a hairpin. They soon reach the North Pole and find out that Billy is riding alone in the observation car, because he does not want to see Santa, as he comes from a broken home on the bad side of his hometown due to a dissolved marriage from his parents' cultural differences. He says that Christmas never turns out well for him. The boy and girl run back to try to get him to come along with them, but the Hero Boy accidentally steps on the uncoupling lever and the observation car speeds backwards. The three of them travel from section to section of the North Pole's industrial area with guidance from the girl, who claims she hears the sound of bells that will show them the way if they follow the sound. They first visit the Control Center, then the Wrapping Hall, and finally a warehouse, before they are airlifted back to the center of the city via airship. As the sleigh is being prepared, one of the bells fall off. The boy picks it up and shakes it, remembering that the girl and Billy could hear a bell earlier when he could not. As before, he cannot hear it. The boy then says he believes in Santa and the spirit of Christmas. He sees Santa's reflection on the bell, shakes the bell again, and hears its sound at last. He gives the bell back to Santa. The boy is handpicked by Santa Claus to receive "The First Gift Of Christmas." Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for the beautiful-sounding silver bell (that only believers in Santa can hear) that had fallen from Santa's sleigh. The boy places the bell in the right pocket of his robe, and all the children watch as Santa takes off for his yearly deliveries. The children return to the train, and the conductor punches more letters into each ticket. These letters spell some form of advice (such as "Learn," "Lead," or "Believe" for the Know-it-All, Hero Girl, and Hero Boy respectively). As the train leaves, the Hero Boy discovers one of the pockets of his robe is torn and the bell is missing. His friends suggest they go back outside to find it, but it is too late. He is saddened by the loss of his bell, but is happy when he sees Billy holding up his present at his doorway, indicating that Santa had already visited him. When the train arrives at Hero Boy's house, he says his goodbyes to all of his friends, and waves from the doorway of his home as the train pulls away. On Christmas morning, his sister Sarah finds a small present hidden behind the tree after all the others have been unwrapped. The Hero Boy opens the present and discovers that it is the bell, which Santa had found on the seat of his sleigh. When the Hero Boy rings the bell, both he and Sarah marvel at the beautiful sound; but because their parents neither believe in Santa Claus nor Christmas, they do not hear it and remark it to be broken. The last line in the movie repeats the same last line from the book: "At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believes."


  • Tom Hanks as the Hero Boy
  • Josh Hutcherson as the Hero Boy (motion-capture only)
  • Leslie Zemeckis as Sister Sarah (motion-capture only)
  • Eddie Deezen as the Know-It-All Kid.
  • Nona Gaye as the Hero Girl.
  • Peter Scolari as the Lonely Boy.
  • Andy Pellick as the Pastry Chef.
  • Josh Eli, Rolandas Hendricks, Jon Scott, Sean Scott, Mark Mendonca, Mark Goodman, Gregory Gast and Gordon Hart as the Waiters.
  • Michael Jeter as Smokey and Steamer.
  • Chris Coppola as the Toothless Boy and an Elf.
  • Julene Renee as the Red Head Girl and an Elf.
  • Charles Fleischer as the Elf General.
  • Steven Tyler as the Elf
  • Dante Pastula as the Little Boy.