Saturday 10 December 2016

The Polar Express

"The bell only rings for those who believe."

When Thomas was young, my Mom bought him a copy of Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express which came with a bell.  It was around the time that the movie came out starring Tom Hanks.  A little boy (the hero boy) is questioning the existence of Santa.  On Christmas Eve, a train headed to the North Pole, modelled on the Pere Marquette 225 that Allsburg used to play on as a boy in Michigan, stops at his house and he climbs aboard.

On the train he meets a know-it-all boy, a friendly girl and a poor boy.  The children are treated to a steaming cup of hot chocolate, served by a team of dancing and singing waiters.


                                             Hot chocolate scene from the Polar Express                            courtesy

 A problem arises when the little girl loses her ticket, which floats through the air over the hills and through the woods passed an array of animals.  The hero boy discovers the girl's ticket which has slipped back through the window of the train.  He meets a hobo on top of the train, also voiced by Tom Hanks.

As the train approaches the North Pole, it crosses a frozen lake. The train zigzags back and forth like a roller coaster to avoid the cracks in the ice, caused by a cotter pin.  The North Pole is designed according to the American history of railroading:  one building is patterned after Chicago's Pullman Factory; another is patterned after New York City's old Penn Station.

Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago courtesy

Santa arrives to much fanfare, his sac of toys airlifted by a zeppelin.  One bell breaks lose from a reindeer's harness.  The hero boy retrieves it and puts it in his pocket.  Santa declares that the bell is "the first gift of Christmas".  When the conductor stamps the hero boy's ticket as he disembarks the train, the ticket says "BELIEVE".  At first, the hero boy couldn't hear the bell ring in his housecoat pocket, but now he does.

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