(G) 2 1/2 starsEd Johnson-Ott

I recently saw two films featuring animated people, The Incredibles and The Polar Express. The characters in The Incredibles are highly stylized cartoons, as opposed to The Polar Express, which used sensors on the bodies and faces of live performers to create the most realistic images possible. Funny thing, then, how I could appreciate and relate to the folks in The Incredibles, while being creeped out by the ones in The Polar Express. To be fair, I should let you know that I was in the minority at the screening I attended. The audience, including several other local critics, appeared to be enchanted by the film.

So you might want to check out some other reviews to get a balanced viewpoint. In the meantime, let me tell you, the characters in The Polar Express really look weird. Some movements work, but at times it appeared as if animated mannequins are bounding about on screen. On a consistent basis, the facial expressions are muted; they start making various expressions, but do not go far enough. It's like watching someone lip-sync who isn't fully committed to the song. Oh, and the eyes, the eyes! Dead things. A few shots are fine, but most of the time, it looks like you're watching doll's eyes. And some of the voices sound like adults trying to sound like kids.

Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away) reunited for the computer-animated adventure based on the children's book by Chris Van Allsburg. The story: When a young boy doubts the existence of Santa Claus, an extraordinary train arrives to take him to the North Pole. Hanks plays the conductor of the train, along with several other characters. His old Bosom Buddies co-star, Peter Scolari, plays the lonely boy.

The on screen images are created using a process called Performance Capture. According to the production notes, when the process is used, "An actor's live performance is digitally captured by computerized cameras and becomes a human blueprint for creating virtual characters." Too bad it only kind of works.

I haven't read the book, but I doubt it contains all the thrill ride business the film does. The train does lots of roller-coaster style plunges, which should be really fun when the 3D IMAX version starts to play. In the meantime, I believe I'll pass on this grim "Christmas masterpiece" and go see The Incredibles again.

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