The Conductor is the unnamed conductor of the Polar Express. He is determined to get to the North Pole on time and usually finds Hero Boy at the heart of every problem.
He was both portrayed in motion capture and voiced by Tom Hanks who also voiced Woody from the Toy Story franchise.
Role in the Book
After the Polar Express stops in front of Hero Boy's house, the Conductor steps out and looks at Hero Boy's window, prompting him to come outside. The Conductor tells him that the train is going to the North Pole, so Hero Boy holds out his hand and the Conductor pulls him on board.
Later, the children see lights in the distance, which the Conductor says is the North Pole. The train soon arrives, but the children see no elves. The Conductor explains that they are gathering at the Square in the center of the city where Santa Claus will give the first gift of Christmas to one of the children. After the train stops at the Square, the Conductor leads the children outside and through the crowd of elves. He also helps Hero Boy onto Santa's sleigh when he gets chosen to receive the first gift.
When Hero Boy is dropped off at his house on the return trip, the Conductor wishes him a Merry Christmas, but Hero Boy could not hear him from his house, so the Conductor cups his hands around his mouth and shouts it just as the train leaves.
Role in the Film
The Conductor plays a much larger role in the film, mostly due to its much longer story.
On the Polar Express
The Conductor is first seen stepping out of the train after Hero Boy runs outside, calling out, "All aboard!" Hero Boy walks over to him, who explains that the train is going to the North Pole and brings up Hero Boy's recent signs of disbelief in the Christmas spirit. Hero Boy turns the trip down, but decides just as the train is leaving to jump on.
Later, the Conductor punches the children's tickets. He first goes to Hero Boy, who looked confused, so he suggests checking his pocket. When he finds only a hole, the Conductor suggests the other pocket, where he finds a shiny golden ticket, much to his surprise, and hands it to the Conductor, who punches a "B" and an "E" on the left and right sides of the ticket. He punches "LE" for Know-It-All, who calls the Conductor a show off with his ticket-punching.
The train soon stops at 11344 Edbrooke Avenue to pick up Billy. The Conductor invites him onto the train in the same manner as he did with Hero Boy. Billy turns it down, but changes his mind and runs after the train just as it leaves. However, it is moving too fast, so Hero Boy pulls emergency brake and stops the train. Just then, an angry Conductor storms in and berates Hero Boy for pulling the brake, thinking he was either messing around or trying to cause delays, until Hero Girl steps in to explain the situation. The Conductor sees Billy taking a seat in the observation car and immediately drops the issue, instead reminding Hero Boy of the train's tight schedule. The Conductor eventually punched Billy's ticket at some point during the trip, probably when he and Hero Girl were bringing him hot chocolate, but this never happens on-screen. The word "ON" can be seen on the ticket before the Conductor punches it again for the return trip.
When the train is on its way again, the Conductor asks over the intercom if any of the children want refreshments. Everyone raises their hands in excitement, so a group of waiters and chefs come in and serve them hot chocolate while, along with the Conductor, singing "Hot Chocolate." After they leave, the Conductor assists Hero Girl to the observation car when she goes to give Billy the hot chocolate she saved for him, since, according to Know-It-All, she would have violated railroad safety regulations had she crossed moving cars without a grown up.
Later, the Conductor realizes he forgot to punch Hero Girl's ticket, but she cannot find it, since Hero Boy lost it while trying to give it back to her. The Conductor takes her to the back to the train, onto the roof and to the cab of the locomotive. Hero Boy, with the help of the Hobo, gets to the cab too, then applies the train's brakes when Smokey and Steamer, who were at the front of the locomotive fixing its headlamp, call out to stop the train. Once again, the Conductor gets angry with Hero Boy until Hero Girl shows him the herd of caribou blocking the track, at which he turns his anger to that. While the three go to the front of the train, Hero Boy slips and grabs onto Smokey's beard to break his fall, causing Smokey to scream in pain. Everyone realizes that the caribou can understand the screaming, so the Conductor continues to pull on Smokey's beard to try communicating with them. Finally, the caribou move off the tracks, allowing the train to continue.
Hero Boy, Hero Girl, and the Conductor stay at the front of the locomotive. Hero Boy notes how fast they are going, so the Conductor asks Hero Girl to call out to Steamer to slow down, but he was too busy trying to fix the jammed throttle to listen. The Conductor becomes worried about the situation, so he ties the children to the safety bar before the train speeds down Glacier Gulch, the steepest downhill grade in the world. After the gulch, the train slides onto the Ice Lake. Smokey and Steamer stop the train using the hairpin from Smokey's hair to fix the throttle, but the old pin pierces the ice, causing it to crack. The Conductor tells Smokey and Steamer to get the train off the lake. They find the tracks at the other side and head towards them with the Conductor navigating. The cracking ice soon reaches them, but the train lands on the rails underneath and makes it off the lake. Meanwhile, Hero Boy gives Hero Girl's ticket back and the Conductor punches "LE" out of it, the same thing Know-It-All got.
The Conductor leads Hero Boy and Hero Girl back to the passenger cars by going through the abandoned toy car. He tells them Santa came up with an idea in which the train collects mistreated toys from around the world and takes them to the North Pole to be refurbished.
At the North Pole
While Hero Boy, Hero Girl and Billy were watching the Northern Lights from the observation car, the Conductor comes to tell them that they have crossed the Arctic Circle (66° 33′) and points at some lights in the distance, which he says are that of the North Pole. When they arrive there, the Conductor cries with tears of joy, since they are five minutes early, but the children are confused as to why there are no elves outside. The Conductor explains that they are gathering at the Square where Santa will give one of the children the first gift of Christmas. Soon, the train stops at the Square and the Conductor and the children get off. Hero Boy and Hero Girl tell the Conductor about Billy staying behind in the observation car. The Conductor says he can choose to do so, but Hero Boy and Hero Girl go to try to get him to come anyway (while Know-It-All sneaks after them in order to find his Christmas presents).
While the four children are absent, the Conductor, possibly aware of what they are up to and what will happen to them, stays behind to look after the remaining children. He escorts them to the town square, where they watch the sack full of presents being loaded onto the sleigh. When the elves' zeppelins flies too close to the large Christmas tree, the Conductor is the first to warn them of the danger ahead. He and the other children then witness a group of elves paragliding down from the zeppelins (which he wisely advises the children not to attempt themselves), and, when disaster strikes, another team of elves bungee-jump from the airship down to the star and successfully prevent it from smashing to the ground.
The Conductor later greets Hero Boy, Hero Girl, Know-It-All, and Billy back after they get rescued from the bag of presents. He also helps Hero Boy off the sleigh after Hero Boy is given the silver bell, then watches Santa fly away to make his annual deliveries.
After Santa leaves, the children line up at the train to get their tickets punched again for the return trip, each time creating a word or phrase containing the letters punched earlier. Know-It-All's ticket reads "LEARN," though he initially reads it as "LEAN" since one of his fingers was covering the R until the Conductor points out Know-It-All's mistake. Billy's ticket reads "DEPEND ON", but it magically changes to "RELY ON" and "COUNT ON" each time he flips it over. The Conductor calls it "some special ticket". Hero Girl gets "LEAD," pronounced /liːd/ as in leadership, though she initially pronounces it as /ˈlɛd/, as in a lead balloon. Hero Boy's ticket, which the Conductor punched behind his back, reads "BELIEVE", but the Conductor interrupts him before he reads it out loud, saying he does not need to know.
When the train stops in front of Billy and Hero Boy's houses, the Conductor helps them get off the train with a step stool while advising them to watch their step. After Hero Boy gets back to his house, the Conductor wishes him a Merry Christmas, but Hero Boy does not hear, so the Conductor cups his hands around his mouth and shouts it just as the train leaves.
While the other children go to look for their missing tickets, Hero Girl distracts the Conductor to make sure no one gets thrown off the train. After the caribou crossing, he was about to have Hero Girl leave the train for not having her ticket when Hero Boy remembers that he still has it and hands it to her. Later, the Conductor invites the children to the dining car for refreshments. He asks Hero Boy to fill in for a missing waiter, which he agrees to do. After that, the Conductor's appearances are limited to scenes from the film.
Behind the scenes
The Conductor's animation was done through motion-capture, like most human characters in the film, provided by Tom Hanks, who also did the voice. However, some keyframe animation was done to perfect his movements. While on set, Hanks would help imagine himself into his characters by wearing different pairs of shoes for each role, including a specific pair of boots for the Conductor, as the actors did not wear costumes.
One piece of early concept art by Doug Chiang portrays the Conductor with a bow tie and no mustache. Another piece by Vladimir Todorov has him as an older man with gray hair, also with a bow tie and no mustache.
|French||Le Contrôleur||Jean-Philippe Puymartin|
|Hungarian||A Kalauz||Balázs Péter|
|Italian||Il Controllore||Francesco Pannofino|
|Portuguese||Revisor||Paulo Oom (Portugal)|
|Spanish||Conductor||Salvador Delgado (Latin America; speaking voice)|
Beto Castillo (Latin America; singing voice)
Jordi Brau (Spain)
- Throughout the book, the Conductor only appears in the second illustration in which he is looking out the passenger car at Hero Boy, yet he is barely visible, with only his head seen, because the illustration shows an entire view of the train.
- The Conductor sings the soundtrack version of the title song along with a chorus of children, though only the children sing in the film version. The version with the Conductor's vocals, however, plays during the credits.
- In the film, the Conductor quotes a line from the book comparing the lights seen from the Arctic Circle to that of "a strange ocean liner sailing on a frozen sea," which was originally said by the narrator. He also says it in the present tense instead of the past.
- "All aboard!"
- "Well, you coming?"
- "Why to the North Pole of course! This is The Polar Express!"
- "Suit yourself."
- "Tickets! Tickets, please!"
- ”Try your pocket. Try your OTHER pocket.”
- ”That is a public address microphone, it is not a toy. NOT a toy.”
- "Next stop, 11344 Edbrooke."
- "Who in the blazes applied that emergency brake?!"
- "You! In case you didn't know, that cord is for emergency purposes only! And in case you weren't aware, tonight is Christmas Eve, and in case you haven't noticed, this train is on a very tight schedule! Now, young man, Christmas may not be important to some people, but it is very important to the rest of us!"
- "Well... Let me remind you we are on a very tight schedule. And I've never been late before, and I am certainly not going to be late tonight! Now, everybody, take your seats, please! Thank you."
- "Your attention please, are there any Polar Express passengers in need of refreshments?"
- "What about this boy? Did he get any refreshments? Well, let's take some to him! By all means!"
- "Ah! These tickets... are not... transferable."
- "There could be no Christmas, without The Polar Express arriving on time!! Am I the only one who understands that!?!? YOU!!! I should have known! Young man, are you bound to determine that this train never reaches the North Pole!?"
- "Caribou crossing!?"
- "We are in some, serious jelly!"
- "Problem solved, all ahead slow!"
- "Well, considering the fact that we have lost communication with the engineer, we're standing totally exposed on the front of the locomotive, the train appears to be accelerating uncontrollably, and we are rapidly approaching Glacier Gulch, which just happens to be the steepest downhill grade in the world, I suggest we all hold on TIGHTLY!!!"
- "Jiminy Christmas! The ice has frozen over the tracks!"
- "What in the name of Mike!?"
- "Get us the blazes out of here!"
- "Turn this sled around!"
- "Hang a Louie! Toss a Ritchie!"
- "BRACE YOURSELVES!!!"
- "Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."
- "Hey, you three! We just crossed it. Latitude 66 degrees 33 minutes, the Arctic Circle. And do you see those lights in the distance? They look like the lights of a strange ocean liner sailing on a frozen sea. There... is the North Pole."
- "We made it! With five minutes to spare! We made it! Ha, ha!"
- "He will choose one of you."
- "They are gathering in the center of the city. That is where Santa will give the first gift of Christmas. He will choose... one of you."
- "I may be just an old railroader and know nothing about lighter-than-air craft, but from my layman's perspective, you need more altitude!"
- "'LEAN' is spelled with four letters; I believe I punched five."
- "I believe it also is pronounced 'LEAD.' (/liːd/) As in 'leader,' 'leadership.' 'Lead the way.' Follow you anywhere, ma'am."
- "Watch your step, please."
- "One thing about trains... it doesn't matter where they're going. What matters is deciding to get on."
- "MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!"
- Cotta Vaz, Mark. Starkey, Steve. (November 4, 2004) The Art of the Polar Express, Chronicle Books. p. 8-10, 26-28. ISBN 978-0811846592.
- "Riding the Polar Express" Wired.
- Schaub, David (November 23, 2004). "'The Polar Express' Diary: Part 1 -- Testing and Prepping". Animation World Network.