Tonight’s musical offering is “When Christmas Comes To Town,” a lovely, affecting little song from the soundtrack of the 2004 film The Polar Express. Background:
The Polar Express is a 2004 American animated adventure fantasy film directed by Robert Zemeckis, who co-wrote the screenplay with William Broyles Jr., based on the 1985 children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. It stars Tom Hanks in multiple roles, with Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, and Eddie Deezen in supporting roles. The film features human characters animated using live action and motion capture computer animation, with sequences for the latter taking place from June 2003 to May 2004. Set on Christmas Eve, it tells the story of a young boy who sees a mysterious train bound for the North Pole stop outside his window and is invited aboard by its conductor. He joins other children as they embark on a journey to visit Santa Claus preparing for Christmas.
The Polar Express premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival on October 13, 2004, and was theatrically released in the United States on November 10, 2004, by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film received mixed reviews from critics and initially grossed $286 million against a record-breaking $165–170 million budget, which was the biggest sum for an animated feature at the time. Later re-releases helped propel the film’s gross to $314 million worldwide, and it was later listed in the 2006 Guinness World Records as the first all-digital capture film. The Polar Express is also the last film appearance for Michael Jeter before his death and is dedicated to his memory.
Hanks optioned the book in 1999 with the hopes of playing the conductor and Santa Claus. One of the conditions of the sale was that the resulting film not be animated. Zemeckis, however, felt that a live-action version was unfeasible, claiming that it “would look awful, and it would be impossible – it would cost $1 billion instead of $160 million.” Zemeckis felt that such a version would rob the audience of the art style of the book which he felt was “so much a part of the emotion of the story”. The two acquired the rights to the book the following year. In order to keep his vision a new process was created by which actors would be filmed with motion capture equipment in a black box stage which would then be animated to make the resulting film. Hanks stated that this method of working was “actually a return to a type of acting that acting in films does not allow you to do”, comparing the process to performing a play in the round. The idea of a Scrooge puppet was conceived when Zemeckis looked at his childhood toys, one of which was a puppet.
Hanks plays five roles in the film including that of a small child (whose voice would later be dubbed in by Daryl Sabara). Initially Zemeckis considered having him play every role, but after trying this, Hanks grew exhausted, and they whittled down the number. Principal photography of the motion-capture sequences began in June 2003, and wrapped in May 2004.
The soundtrack of the film, titled The Polar Express: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, was released on November 2, 2004, by Reprise Records, Warner Music Group and Warner Sunset Records. The song, “Believe” was written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri and was nominated for Best Original Song at the 77th Academy Awards. It was sung at the 77th Academy Awards show by original performer Josh Groban with Beyoncé and won a Grammy Award in 2006.
The album was certified Gold by the RIAA in November 2007. Having sold 724,000 copies in the United States, it is the best-selling film soundtrack/holiday album hybrid since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking music sales in 1991.
Most of the original orchestral score featured in the film was not released on the soundtrack and has never been released. The soundtrack mostly comprises only songs featured in the film. A limited number of promotional “For Your Consideration” CDs, intended to showcase the film’s score to reviewers of the film, were released in 2005. This CD contained nearly the complete score, but none of the film’s songs. Various bootleg versions of the soundtrack, combining both the official soundtrack album and the orchestral-only CD, have since surfaced.
Much more at the link, including an interesting architectural side-note I hadn’t known about before.
The buildings at the North Pole in the film represent an earlier era in American railroading. Building design drew inspiration from the Pullman neighborhood in Chicago, home of a railroad car manufacturer, the Pullman Company.
Huh, how ’bout that. Anyways, on to the embed.
Having grown up with Charlie Brown, the Grinch, and various other 60’s Christmas TV special classics—not to mention the all-time greatest Christmas flick, Capra’s unforgettable It’s A Wonderful Life—I didn’t think all that highly of Polar Express the first time I saw it. I mean, the animation was amazing, the musical numbers were incredibly well-done, the story was cute enough, but still, my all-in-all reaction was just kind of…MEH. But after repeated viewings it did grow on me, and now I very much dig it.