'Polar Express' is a chilly ride

Previews for "The Polar Express" have been running for months, creating the impression that Hollywood had concocted a very special treat. Now the express has finally pulled in, and I'm less excited by it than I'd hoped. Many moviegoers may find its colors and effects delightful enough to make the experience a thrill. Look beyond the tinsel, though, and you may be disappointed.

The train of the title is a magical vehicle that pauses on its way to the North Pole to pick up kids who need more Christmas cheer. They have many adventures along the way, culminating in their arrival at Santa's workshop on Christmas Eve.

Hollywood veteran Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump," "Back to the Future," "Cast Away") directed "The Polar Express" using high-tech "capture" technology that transforms real filmed material into animation.

It's hard to figure out why filmmakers would spend enormous amounts of time and money to turn the genuine Tom Hanks into an animated Tom Hanks, but at least they've done a good job with him and the rest of the cast - except for the characters' eyes, which have an unreal look that's almost creepy at times.

The story itself is standard holiday-film fare, plugging Christmas as a festival of gifts and decorations where "belief" refers to Santa and his elves, not Christianity and its messages.

Although most audiences will see "The Polar Express" in regular theaters, I saw the Imax 3-D version that's also opening this week, and I still feel like picking stray snowflakes out of my hair.

Rated G.

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