The Polar Express

  • Review Date: November 17, 2005
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2004
  • Running Time: 92 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Book-based treat is full of adventure and positive messages.
  • Review Date: November 17, 2005
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2004
  • Running Time: 92 minutes

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

No educational or informational intent, however, there are many positive messages expressed.

Positive messages

Filled with positive messages about the importance of believing, the value of friendship, respect for leadership and courage, and the beauty of being kind to others.  Some specific messages: "The true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart," "It doesn’t matter where the train is going, it's deciding to get on that counts," and "There is no greater gift than friendship."

Positive role models

"Boy," the film's hero, is curious, questioning, and honest. Though he's rightfully fearful in numerous scenes, he overcomes his fear and always does the right thing. "Girl," the other leading child character exhibits ideals of behavior: courage, leadership, friendship, and loving kindness. Adults are portrayed as wise, caring, and intelligent. Only stereotype is the "smart" kid, who is smug and annoying, but does change over the course of the film.

Violence & scariness

There are continuous close calls: multiple careening rides (train, pneumatic tube) filmed from a child’s point-of-view; treacherous climbs and balancing atop the train; falls and lost kids; a runaway railway car; cracking ice beneath a speeding train; and a ghostly hobo appears to shatter into pieces at one point. No one is injured and the hobo reappears in fine form later.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable
Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that despite the wonderful messages and warm-hearted story, the film is primarily an adventure, with lots of roller coaster thrills and some scary characters that might be too intense and frightening for the youngest children. The Express roars, speeds, and skids on its perilous journey to the North Pole. Sometimes out of control, sometimes racing against dangers and obstacles in its path, it’s filled with suspense almost from beginning to end. The child heroes are frequently in danger: from falls, getting lost, left alone on a careening train, in dark and shadowy unknown places facing characters who may wish them harm. The story focuses on a boy who doubts whether or not there is a Santa. (According to the movie, yessiree -- but the boy's initial uncertainty could spark questions in some kids.)

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

A boy who is beginning to question Santa lies awake on Christmas Eve afraid he won't hear anything. He hears a sound and runs outside to see an enormous locomotive pull up in front of his house; the conductor invites him to board. The train is bound for the North Pole and our unnamed hero/narrator will have many adventures and find the answer to his questions before he wakes up in his own bed on Christmas morning.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Director Robert Zemeckis has done a fairly good job of maintaining the integrity of the brief story as it is expanded to feature length. The complications of the journey are well-paced and consistent with the story's themes, though the know-it-all character becomes grating very quickly. It is less successful after the arrival at the North Pole, when the expansion starts to feel like filler, particularly when a nice selection of timeless Christmas standards on the soundtrack gives way to a lackluster rock song that brings the story to a standstill for no discernable reason.

The animators have done their best to preserve the look of Chris Van Allsburg's lovely illustrations. The result is attractive, if coarser and less graceful. There are moments of great beauty, especially the vertiginous ride as we watch a golden train ticket carried away by an eagle. And there are wonderfully imaginative images, dancing waiters pouring hot chocolate from silver pots with triple-spouts, Santa's huge workshops with viewing screens for naughty-nice monitoring and pneumatic tubes for transporting toys, and sometimes people.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what they believe about Santa, and also about the Lonely Boy and what they think his real gift was.

  • Families can also talk about each of the lessons punched into the tickets given to the children. Why was each of those lessons the right one for that child? They can talk about the difference between that which can be proven and that which must be believed without proof. When the conductor says, "Sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see," what is he talking about?

  • What is a "crucial year?" Why can't some people hear the bell? Who is the hobo and why is he there?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 10, 2004
DVD release date:November 14, 2005
Cast:Michael Jeter, Peter Scolari, Tom Hanks
Director:Robert Zemeckis
Studio:Warner Bros.
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Book characters, Holidays, Trains
Run time:92 minutes
MPAA rating:G
MPAA explanation:all audiences

This review of The Polar Express was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Written byAnonymous July 19, 2013
AGE
6
QUALITY
 

6+ in Today's PG Rating.

A Review of this film in July 2013. Sexy Stuff 1/10: A Girl & A Boy Hugging Each Other. Violence & Scariness 7/10: Younger then 6 could get Scared. But if you are like me you get less Scared of this film. Positive Messages 10/10: Huge Positive Messages. Positive Role Model 9/10: A Lot of it. Educational value 0/10: If your teacher brings in this movie to watch with the class. I say PG for this Movie. Because of the Hugging & Some Scariness in the film.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Kid, 10 years old December 19, 2010
AGE
6
QUALITY
 

Nice, one of my favorite Christmas movies.

What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Parent of a 2 year old Written byebergman December 20, 2009
AGE
2
QUALITY
 
What other families should know
Great messages
Kid, 12 years old December 6, 2009
AGE
4
QUALITY
 

a wonderful and fun movie that teaches kids the true meaning of chrismas.

The movie is really good. Young kindergarteners and preschoolers and other low grades mostly think that the holidays are just about getting gifs well this movie will teach them that it is much more than that. I would recomend this to young kids, older kids, tweens, teenagers even adults. Because this movie is great enough to bring the chrismas spirit into anyones life. I say this movie is OFF for ages 1-3 (for peril and some mildly scary scenes. IFFY for age 4 (for peril and some mildly scary scenes. and ON for age 5 and up.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Great role models

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