Manohla Dargis, in reviewing THE POLAR EXPRESS in today’s NY TIMES, makes a few good points worth posting here:
“The Polar Express” is a grave and disappointing failure, as much of imagination as of technology. The largest intractable problem with “The Polar Express” is that the motion-capture technology used to create the human figures has resulted in a film filled with creepily unlifelike beings….With their denatured physiognomy, the human characters in “Polar Express” don’t just look less alive than Gollum; they look less alive than the cartoon family in Brad Bird’s “Incredibles.” It’s baffling that Mr. Zemeckis, who can make the screen churn with life, didn’t see how dead these animated characters look. It’s particularly puzzling since the director’s finest work has been actor-driven movies like “Back to the Future, Part II,” rather than special-effects-laden duds like “Death Becomes Her.”Animation is engaged in a debate that pits traditional and computer-assisted animation against computer-generated animation. The idea that anyone loves “Finding Nemo” because it was made wholly on a computer is absurd, but behind this debate lies a larger dispute not only about animation, but film’s relationship to the world as well. On one side of the divide are Pixar visionaries like Mr. Bird and the “Finding Nemo” co-director Andrew Stanton, who either know they can’t recreate real life or are uninterested in such mimicry, and so just do what animators have always done: they imaginatively interpret the world. On the other side of the divide are filmmakers like George Lucas who seem intent on dispensing with messy annoyances like human actors even while they meticulously create a vacuum-sealed simulacrum of the world. But there’s something depressing and perhaps instructive about how in the attempt to create a new, never-before-seen tale about the wonderment of imagination these filmmakers have collectively lost sight of their own.
The film gets an equally lukewarm reception at the L.A. Times