Dec. 4, 2004 Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump," "Cast Away"), who directed the new "Polar Express" animated film, has been reading the story to his kids since the beloved book by Chris Van Allsburg came out in 1985.
"It became an annual tradition to read the story to my son while he was growing up and it never failed to fascinate him. The imagery has an otherworldly quality, existing somewhere between dreams and reality, which captures the mystery of a restless Christmas eve," Zemeckis is quoted in the production notes as saying.
"For years, between November and December, depending on the children's ages," he recalls, "I think I read it four times a week, twice a night, over and over again."
The book which won the writer a Caldecott Award is famously illustrated with rich, evocative paintings. The director decided to try to capture the feeling of those illustrations in the film, an idea that gave rise to the unique, complex visual effects in the film, according to the notes.
Essentially, the actors' movements were filmed and then transformed into animation. And the image manipulation possible with this new technology made it possible for actor Tom Hanks to play five roles including the 8-year-old boy hero.
"This is much different from a traditional film where sets are finally torn down and costumes put away," Hanks said in the notes. "Our dreams were always at work."
At this writing the film has already made more than $80 million at the box office and is a must-see for folks with kids who love the story. There have been some reviewer complaints that the fancy visual effects take away from the wonderful story, but many reviews are quite positive.
Philip Wuntch of the Dallas Morning News called it "a stunning technological achievement and, for the most part, a stirring emotional one."
Desson Thomson of Washington Post wrote, "A truly satisfying holiday picture, the kind everyone can enjoy, and which may even restore a little lost childhood in many adult viewers."
"It's dazzling and enchanting, and will get everybody's holiday season off on the right foot. But make sure your kids have read the book first," Rob Thomas of the Capital Times (Madison, Wis.) said.
Check the schedule for "Polar Express" here.