December 26th, 2009
A kid is starting to not believe in Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve a train turns up to take him and other kids in his condition to the North Pole, where they can see for themselves. It’s a thrilling ride, from the waiters serving hot chocolate to the runaway train on a frozen lake to the unexpected gift from Santa himself. It must be fantastic to see it in 3D at an Imax. I saw it in my living room and it was pretty good there too.
This only gets 56% at Rotten Tomatoes, but I think it’s a lot better than that. If I’d looked at Tomatoes first I might not have watched it at all.
Reviewers tend to hate the animation, which they say is stiff, but I’m used to that — it’s animation! It’s not real life! And aside from the stiffness there is a shimmering, hyper-real quality to the images, which I like a lot. Besides, animation can go places a camera can’t, like down with the wolves or underneath a train screaming across a frozen lake.
It’s true that for the first few minutes I was wondering why it had to be animated at all, since nothing looked that much different from real life. (OK, stiffer.) But I got over that when the distinctly not-stiff waiters came in with the hot chocolate.
Critics are also critical of what they term the lack of emotional richness, but I was moved by it, especially by the lonely kid on the train who says that Christmas never quite works out for him. (That’s how I feel too.) I think you have to watch it pretty close to Christmas, when you might have been softened up enough to let in its soppy message about hope and belief.
I find myself comparing it to other fantasy movies I’ve seen, like The Golden Compass, which careens all over the place on its way to wherever it’s going. (I never quite figured out where it was going.) This one, in contrast, is only going one place — North Pole — and then it’s coming back again. Its intention is simple and direct, and it succeeds very well. I loved it.