Really, The Polar Express was released at the wrong time. It had the script of one of those timeless animations repeated over and over again at Christmastime. Tom Hanks in multiple roles genuinely seemed to care about his performance, often a rarity in animated films with film stars of his stature, and the imagery was iconic.
But the visuals just don’t match their ambition, and the result is the film I feel fairly sure is the most often-cited as an example of the ‘uncanny valley’ concept. The models simply end up looking dead-eyed and puppet-like. Presumably what the collective of studios producing this film for Warner Brothers thought was that realism would help them stand out beside Pixar – whose vastly superior The Incredibles was released in the same week as this – but with 2004’s technology: back then not even the best CG films could make convincing human beings. Certainly not for a full film.
Combined with a story that unfortunately doesn’t allow enough of a connection with its characters and some very odd Riefenstahl-like visuals towards the end, The Polar Express is sadly nowhere near what it could have been.