Robert Zemeckis' "THE POLAR EXPRESS" is an oddity. While many youngsters enjoy this film on repeated viewings, it's sad to realize the vast difference in overall content quality between it and Christmas classics like "A CHRISTMAS STORY" and "MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET". Those films, while imperfect had a real heart and didn't need to rely on anything more than story. "THE POLAR EXPRESS" relies entirely on gimmicks and computer animation, which no matter how good, can't make up for story. Based on an illustrated children's book, the film has extended the thin, quick read, to last 100 minutes. It's a long 100 minutes for most adults!
A young boy, losing faith in the magic of Christmas, is surprised on Christmas Eve by a magical train that pulls up in front of his house. Jumping on the train, he ventures to the North Pole, meets up with other children and eventually Santa Clause, all the while, helping him rebuild his love of Christmas. While the animation, based on rotoscoping, offers its share of spectacle-like moments, especially during a rollercoaster scene, "THE POLAR EXPRESS" doesn't have enough spirit to qualify it as the kind of holiday film that adults and children can look forward to watching together in the same way as they do so many other classics. Youngsters, however, appear to love "THE POLAR EXPRESS" even after multiple viewings.
WARNER BROS has preserved the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio for this HD-DVD release. The animation, manufactured with state-of-the-art computer technology, can be impressive and bothersome at the same time. While it's technically impressive, it lacks the warmth achieved in the CGI animation of "TOY STORY". "THE POLAR EXPRESS" is a spectacular looking transfer! The detail is flawless. Being a direct-to-digital transfer, this is essentially a bit-by-bit duplicate. The depth achieved in virtually every scene is often staggering. "THE POLAR EXPRESS" proves to be one of the best "DEMONSTRATION" quality titles out there. The colors are rich in every frame, and even when the image is slightly darkened during the evening scenes, they're still well balanced.
WARNER BROS has provided a DOLBY DIGITAL PLUS 5.1 mix. Again like the image, the sound mix is a perfect example for one to show off what a great home video theater can do. The soundmix is aggressive and fun from beginning to end. The surrounds are creatively utilized throughout and one particular scene wherein the train must navigate through the dangers a landscape of breaking ice, is practically unforgettable due to the discrete effects. Dialogue is perfectly rendered, even within layers of music and sound effects. The dynamic range is always impressive.