Get up, get on, and get ready for the ride of your life! It's Christmas Eve, and you're about to roller-coaster up and down mountains, slip-slide over ice fields, teeter across mile-high bridges, and be served hot chocolate by singing waiters more astonishing than any you can imagine. You're on The Polar Express!
Tom Hanks stars in and Robert Zemeckis directs this instant holiday classic filmed in dazzling performance capture animation that makes every moment magical. "Seeing is believing," says a mysterious hobo who rides the rails with you. You'll see wonders. And you'll believe. All aboooooard!
Although there's nothing particularly inappropriate for toddlers, they simply won't understand the story, and it's unlikely you'll want to suggest that Santa isn't real. The 90-plus-minute trip is too long for very young children, especially as it's filled with loud, tense moments in which the train spirals out of control and its passengers' lives are endangered.
Preschoolers may ask you why the boy doesn't believe in Santa, but probably won't dig any deeper than that. Some of the action scenes may cause younger kids in this age group to jump out of their seats and onto your lap, but their wide eyes will remain on the screen the entire time. They may be fascinated by the hundreds of caribou who try to cross over the train tracks and by the musical dance number performed by the waiters serving hot chocolate to the Polar Express's pajama-clad passengers.
Children in this age group will most likely be awestruck by the entire trip. They will take to heart the message that "there's no greater gift than friendship." Female viewers especially will feel good to see the young African-American girl take the leadership role among the passengers. Note: You may want to discuss the conductor's remark that "what matters is deciding to get on," and remind them that this does not apply to strangers inviting them into cars.
The first reaction of tweens may be to imagine what a fantastic amusement park ride this train would make, with its twists, turns, and steep drops. Younger kids in this age group are sure to love the flying elves and will get a kick out of the warning "They are specialists. Do not try this at home." They should easily relate to the kids who are having trouble obeying Santa's "Do Not Open Until Christmas" rule. Older tweens may think the movie's a little too corny for them, but those doubting the existence of Santa just may think twice after seeing this movie.