Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Seeing Is Not Believing

When it comes to animated Christmas movies, I have my favorites: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, A Charlie Brown Christmas and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. These movies are longtime staples in the Piper household. I'll admit it's hard to break into that circle of tradition, but The Polar Express has been on quite a bit this season so as a result, we've watched it a few times. Like my problems with Beowulf, The Polar Express is hard to enjoy because it lacks texture. I'm more likely to get misty at the conclusion of A Charlie Brown Christmas than I am to during any moment of The Polar Express. But I will say that the movie has its moments. In a time when shows steer clear of any offensiveness in the hopes of making nice with everyone, The Polar Express does posses a dark theme and I do admire it for that. It's a strange train, that Polar Express. The tracks are treacherous, the train cars seem to be ever-changing, and God help you if you lose your ticket. The hero boy of the story has been invited on the Polar Express because he does not believe in Santa. He has gotten to the age where it seems natural for him to be skeptical. For him to roll his eyes when Mom and Pop say they hear sleigh-bells in the distance. In short, his faith, his want for something magical to happen is gone.

To believe or not to believe in Santa is a question of whether or not you believe in magic. Do you believe a man can fly across the world in a single night and perfectly deliver presents to each and every household and not set off alarms or knock over lamps and spook the dog. Yes, it's impossible, but is it more fun believing or not believing? I always ask my son that as he begins to chip away at the Santa theory. He always agrees with me that it's more fun to believe.

So my problem with The Polar Express is that the hero boy of the story is being rewarded for not believing in Santa. And how is he being rewarded? He's being taken on the most magical trip ever created. Sure it's spooky at times, but the end result is that the boy gets to meet Santa himself. So why him? Why not another child who already believes? Shouldn't they be rewarded? Why does this little shit get a ticket? That's like Willy Wonka giving the factory to a kid who didn't return the everlasting gobstobber. If the boy would rather spend his time being a doubter and poking holes, then let him be. No need to scare him into it or try to prove it to him. Save his golden ticket for someone more deserving. Someone who believes in the unbelievable. Of course all of this message is lost on my son who enjoys the movie's frantic pace and wacky train ride. But it's not lost on me.


Burbanked said...

Because someone who already believes in the unbelievable doesn't need to be convinced anymore. Someone on the fence, on the cusp of growing up and throwing off childish things really needs to have their faith restored, to hear and smell and taste and see things for themself. It begs the question: is Santa himself desperate for us to still believe in him - and therefore stocks the train with on-the-fencers who need to learn a lesson - or is the Train Conductor something of a prophet, an evangelist, a conduit through which children of little faith can find what they're searching for?

Of course, the very idea of faith is supposed to be that you believe without seeing, so I think I just convinced you that I'm full of crap.

My oldest son saw this the year it came out and was so terrified he had to leave (probably wasn't wise to go the Imax route, but live and learn).

Son #2 goes this year. Maybe it'll be different.

Piper said...


You're right on both ends. I like the idea of the conductor being a prophet - separate from Santa. But you're also right that faith suggests that you don't need proof. That the idea is good enough for you.

To me this movie says it's okay to be a doubter. Because if you are the squeaky wheel, you will get all the attention.

I'm not surprised your kid was scared. The scene in the car with the puppet almost caused me to turn it off because it was freaking me out.

Ray said...

Ugh, too much debate over a pointless technological experiment by Zemekis. This thing is lifeless.

By the way, A Christmas Story is the best and most indispensible Christmas movie ... in case you forgot.

Burbanked said...

You're right about that, Ray. This has been our second year viewing ACSwith our boys, and they grow more and more entertained each time. My two older boys are so much like Ralphie and Randy that it's not even funny.

And this year they asked me what Ralphie really said when he says "fuuuuudddggge".

My answer: "fart". Because that word makes them giggle.

Piper said...


You're right that this is not really a movie worth talking about, but I was somewhat impressed with its darker theme so I thought it worth mentioning. And yes A Christmas Story is a great movie, but I was talking specifically about animated Christmas movies.

Megan said...

I have not seen this all the way through, I just didn't like the way it looked. Couldn't get into it.

That's an interesting point there though, Piper. Why doesn't a believer get to go? I suppose the easy answer is because believers don't need to. Now you've got me thinking...