I remain unconvinced about the need for photorealistic animated films. The Polar Express does, however, provide a compelling argument in favour of the form: some of the swooping, daredevil camera sequences would have been difficult and expensive (though probably not impossible) to achieve with the standard blend of live action and CGI. But although we’re probably on the way out of the Uncanny Valley, we’re not there yet, and some of the characters just look wrong. I think that full suspension of disbelief would have come more easily if the animation had been more stylised. In fact, the characters that seemed most real (to me) were the ones that were somewhat caricaturish anyway: the ghost on the train, the engineers, and the elves.
That said, it’s still a joyous film that sweeps you away on a atmospheric and magical journey to the North Pole. It’s a visual feast, with a slice of excitement in almost every scene. It forgoes emotional blackmail and strained messages of goodwill in favour of a sugared-up thrill of Christmas, and the childlike anticipation of getting presents. Kids will love it, and adults may find their hearts warmed, too.