Directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks, Leslie Harter Zemeckis, Eddie Deezen, Nona M Gaye, Peter Scolari, Brendan King and Andy Pellick.

'The Polar Express' is a touching and visually beautiful journey through a Christmas wonderland, from the perspective of a child struggling to accept the magic of the festive season.

Adapted from a seasonal tale by Chris Van Allsburg, the story is charmingly brought to life for a young audience, with incredible use of unique motion capture and computer generated images, that retain an uncanny likeness for the actors involved. With a touch of magic in every scene, the landscape of the film is amazing, the mechanical nature of the characters only slightly diminishing the overall feel of the movie.

An unnamed boy (Hanks) is struggling to keep faith in the belief that Santa Claus really does exist. He suspects that the whole idea of Christmas is just a big myth. Of course, as with all good Christmas movies, something must be done. In the dark of night on Christmas Eve a locomotive pulls up outside his home. The nameless conductor who jumps from it (Hanks) invites the boy to hop aboard for the journey of a lifetime... to the North Pole.

Inside the boy finds the carriages already filled with other children, all doubters, who are travelling to the North Pole to meet the man himself. Their trip is an action-packed one, with some beautiful sequences, including an all-singing, all-dancing snack carriage and a whirlwind journey for one of the precious train tickets bestowed upon the children - among them an innocent and reserved little girl (Gaye), a noisy know-it-all (Deezen) and a poor boy (Scolari).

After an impressive spate of adventures, the children and 'The Polar Express' finally arrive at the North Pole, a colourful wonderland bursting at the seams with elves, presents galore and of course Santa and his reindeer.

The look of the animation is easy on the eye, with the scenes at the North Pole very impressive in their detail and scale. In parts, however, as in the puppet carriage scene, the characters and their surroundings veer towards the creepy, especially for a younger audience, but this touch is used to full effect in its context. And it must also be said that the characters hold very true to those of Van Allsburg's extraordinary visual and literary tale.

There are, however, details of the production that seem completely unnecessary, like the bizarre decision to leave the majority of the characters nameless, which serves more to irritate than anything else.

Tom Hanks, though, is sensational in his multitude of roles, as the young boy who has lost sight of the wonder of Christmas; the train conductor bent on changing his mind; Santa Claus and a range of different characters that pop up on the journey towards the North Pole. His versatility and enthusiasm for the roles is continually evident.

Although the prevailing message is the sickeningly played out rekindling of Christmas spirit and the power of belief, there is something refreshing about this movie that sets it apart and adds a certain sparkle to proceedings. And whatever faults you may find along the journey, they should not take away from the visual spectacular that is 'The Polar Express'. 

Linda McGee