Double take: The Polar Express (2004) and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

New double take this week, a gorgeous Christmas movie and a classic Technicolor adventure.

The Polar Express – All aboaaaaaard

Christmas is the worst

I was coerced into watching this movie by my girlfriend. Now being somewhat of a grown up, Christmas has become a source of anxiety, the magic has gone.
The need to buy gifts, thinking of gifts people can give you, eating too much, etc. I actually can’t wait for it to be over so the new year can start.
I knew about this movie, but for some reason I had no interest in watching it. I have been disappointed a lot by fully CGI animation movies lately. So I was not overly keen on watching The Polar Express.

Doing this relunctantly can sometimes lead to being pleasantly surprised, and I’m glad it was the case with this.

The benefits of CGI

I was very impressed with the technical aspect.
There is a great sense of scale throughout the whole picture. From the snowy forest and mountain environments to the humongous city in the North Pole, everything feels gigantic.
The train itself, and a lot of the exterior shots are just gorgeous to look at. There is also a good sense of movement, mostly thanks to the long train ride, but the movie doesn’t feel static at all.
The “flying ticket” sequence is absolutely great, and a perfect example of how to use CGI properly. Without real world constraints you can do crazy takes like this one, and it pays off in a big way.

An aspect of CGI-only movies I like a lot is the sense of overall visual cohesion it can bring.
In a “live action” movie with lots of CGI, the shift is often very noticeable, but in movies such as the Polar Express, the art style, the look stays intact for the whole thing.

The voice acting is pleasant, Tom Hanks does a good job, not over-compensating and the kids find the right tone.

I also like the subtlety of the message. The movie is not hammering you with feelings and childhood dreams and the magic of Christmas.
Instead it does things in a very organic, restrained manner, and I quite liked that.

That weird chocolate song

Now on some of the less positive points.
I think the songs, the chocolate song and the Billy/Girl duet, are a bit out of place. It made sense to have the Christmas songs playing in the background or even in the movie itself, but I felt those two came out of nowhere and didn’t bring anything useful.
The facial animation are definitely dated now, and they look a bit underwhelming compared to the rest of the visuals. But that’s nitpicking really.

Zemeckis for the win

So in the end I spent a very enjoyable moment. In hindsight I should have remembered I enjoy Robert Zemeckis’s work a lot usually, it’s not that surprising I quite liked this one too.
I felt vibes of the first Toy Story and first Shrek in this one (which in my book is a great praise). A great movie for kids and adults for sure!

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad – The golden age of stop-motion

Once again I can’t remember the first time I saw this. As a kid it’s the kind of movie you’d remember because of the monsters, but then you’d probably mix them up.

Those Cyclops though

Let’s not waste any time, the monsters are a big part of the appeal of the movie.
The Cyclops especially are really cool. The eerie way they move (gotta love that stop motion feel) and the sound of their roars.
The snake-lady would definitely scar you as a kid, that strange dance coupled with that intimidating music, very memorable but very creepy too.

I really like the exteriors, Colossa feels huge, exotic and dangerous. The brief moments in Bagdad look nice as well.
Superb musical pieces too, the main theme is instantly recognizable.

I like the costumes, and the interiors sets. Of course it’s too clean, but it suits the atmosphere of a fantastical 1001 nights Bagdad quite well.

You are aware it’s a 1958 movie at some points. The pacing is on and off, some scenes feel a bit too long. The acting is not consistent, sometimes seems really poor.
The movie kind of ends abruptly, of course with the princess being saved you expect things will go well, but the situation with Chandra is never properly resolved.

Parisa 😍

On the acting side, Kerwin Matthews is really charismatic as Sinbad, Kathryn Grant is very cute as Princess Parisa. She has the overly naive damsel-in-distress role, but she’s very attractive and charming. You can see why Sinbad goes through all this trouble.
The actor playing the evil magician Sokurah is mainly over the top, but that’s not overly shocking.
They don’t look persian at all, but do we really care? (The answer is NO)
The other characters are pretty much non existent, there’s Sinbad sidekick Harufa that dies, but everyone else is either Cyclops / giant double-headed bird fodder.

A really nice watch, an exciting adventure as well as a formidable technical display, takes you back to a time were movies did not took themselves so seriously but made with great care.

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