Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA, 2004. Castle Rock Entertainment, Shangri-La Entertainment, Playtone, ImageMovers, Golden Mean, Universal CGI, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles Jr., based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg. Cinematography by Don Burgess, Robert Presley. Produced by Gary Goetzman, Steven Tyler, William Teitler, Robert Zemeckis. Music by Alan Silvestri. Production Design by Rick Carter, Doug Chiang. Costume Design by Joanna Johnston. Film Editing by R. Orlando Duenas, Jeremiah O’Driscoll. Academy Awards 2004. Golden Globe Awards 2004.
If you can handle how creepy it is, you might find it heartwarming: to begin with, Tom Hanks plays everybody in the movie (creepy), including the young boy, the father, the hobo and the Santa Claus (someone have a creepy daddy fixation? I find myself wondering, just how much does he enjoy the spankings?). For another, adult actors voice some of the children’s characters, and it’s obvious (creepy), the elves all look like carnies (creepy) and the animated faces look real but have glassy-eyed expressions (creepy) and their cheeks never move (mega-creepy). Robert Zemeckis has often been on the cutting edge of visual effects technology with many of his films, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Death Becomes Her and Forrest Gump, and here he goes even further than ever before: filming Hanks in a digitally-tracked lycra suit, he overlays live-action footage with realistically animated, computer-generated scenes for this family film based on the popular novel by Chris Van Allsburg. In it, a young boy (voice acting by Daryl Sabara) leaves his home in the middle of the night to board a magical train that leads directly to the North Pole, a service provided by Santa Claus as a way of getting children who have stopped believing in him to renew their faith. The journey northward is a treacherous one, lorded over by the train’s time-obsessed conductor and inhabited by a mysterious hobo who lives on its roof. Once there, the young boy and two new friends that he made on the journey must navigate their way through the North Pole metropolis to find the rest of the group that they were accidentally separated from. The animation is eye-poppingly beautiful (and if you watch the 3-D version, your eyes really will pop out of their sockets and leave you with a splitting headache), but as mildly diverting as it is, the story is lifeless. A lack of character development hurts, but nothing is as painful as the musical score that assaults your ears with god-awful songs and disastrous performances of them (Hanks’s Rex Harrison-inspired talk-singing sounds like he’s coughing up a hairball).