I reviewed this one last year as well on my old site, and thought I'd bring it back because of the way I ended up feeling about it. When this first came out, I definitely enjoyed it pretty thoroughly. The animation was great, it had this solid Christmas spirit to it, and it was a fun fantasy adventure. But last year upon seeing it, my opinion of it waned quite a bit. This year, I haven't really changed my mind, either.
First of all, the plot is focused on a kid named... nothing at all, but is credited as "Hero Boy". He's of the age where Christmas is starting to lose it's overall magic. So, on Christmas Eve, he hears an express train right outside his door, runs outside, and a conductor invites him to come to the North Pole. The kid (as every kid should ACTUALLY DO under these circumstances) backs off and decides not to go on the mysterious trip to a ridiculously far off land with a creepy stranger. That lasts a few seconds, and then he jumps on because why not?
He meets a few characters, including a girl, a geek, and a little boy, all complete with horrible character flaws (which I'll soon explain). When the conductor comes around to punch the tickets, the girl ends up losing hers, and the kid chases the ticket around the train for half the movie. The other half involves their arrival at the North Pole.
Okay, so let's get what's BAD about this movie out of the way. Fair warning, contains spoilers. For starters, all those character flaws. The girl is constantly asked if she's "sure" about certain situations, and in the end she decides she's sure about something. It happens three times in total. I guess we're supposed to feel for her uncertainty about tough decisions, but it's resolved so quickly and easily that its hard to care. There's never any weight to these decisions, and I don't think we ever see why she's like this. Second, the geek. He's just the worst type of annoying. He's this nazal-voiced know-it-all who's all up in everybody's face about how much he knows about stuff. An insufferable little braggart you kinda wanna see the kid punch in the face just once. Lastly, the lonely little boy. He spends most of the movie in the rear car, just sitting there, looking at his boots. When we finally get to him, we realize that he's poor and Christmas doesn't ever work out for him. I guess we're supposed to feel bad for him, but it's hard to get invested when there hasn't been any focus on the character at all. Why do we care about a character we know nothing about other than "he's poor". There's nothing more to him, really.
The other thing that really bugs me nowadays are the basic morals taught at the end of the story. Well, some of them, anyway. The one that stands out is that the lonely little boy is told he should "rely on" and "depend on" people... that made me think of the end of that 'Simpsons' episode where Homer tells Marge he can offer her "complete and utter dependence". In the words of Marge, "that's not a good thing." I mean, couldn't it be something more like "communicate"?
Okay, okay, I've ripped into it long enough. Let's talk about what was good about it, and how things may have effected it along the way. Well, for starters, the movie is absolutely beautiful to look at. We get vast wilderness landscapes, flying through the air, going on a sort of roller coaster ride on the train tracks, and it's all set against a mysterious looking Christmas Eve night. I haven't seen it in 3D yet, but you can telll that a LOT of stuff really lends itself to the 3D here. The overall animation of the characters for 2004 wasn't quite as standard as it looks now either. Before this, the only movie that really did this kind of animation was probably 'Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within'. Now, it's been seen in quite a bit more, and though it still looks good, it's not nearly as mind-blowing as it was back then.
What I DO enjoy about this movie, apart from the beautiful scale of the animation, is that the last, big moral kinda hits home. It can be kinda tough growing up and having all that wonderful Christmas magic taken away from you. But this shows that with the right mind, you can still at least believe in the spirit of Christmas, because it resides in your heart. So, I'd argue that the final scene of the film is well done.
This is kind of a tricky one. I'd probably say that if you're looking for a fun experience, and you can make it happen, check your local theater for potential showtimes in 3D. It'd probably be a fun time if you see it like that. The animation totally still holds up anyway. But if you're looking for a story with great, well-rounded characters, you might wanna reconsider and check something else out.