Role in the book
In Grand Rapids, Michigan on a snowy Christmas Eve, Chris lies in his bed, waiting to hear the bells from Santa's sleigh, despite a friend telling him Santa does not exist. Suddenly, he hears a train outside and sure enough, a train had stopped in front of his house. A Conductor steps outside one of the cars and looks at Chris' window, prompting him to go outside. He tells Chris that the train, called the Polar Express, is going to the North Pole, so Chris puts out his hand and the Conductor pulls him aboard.
On the train, Chris meets other children going to the North Pole. Throughout the journey, they sing Christmas carols, eat nougat-centered candies, and drink hot cocoa while the train travels through villages and forests and climbs mountains until it arrives at the North Pole where Chris, along with the other children and the Conductor, get off. Chris hears the silver bells from the reindeer's harness and thinks it is the most beautiful sound he has ever heard. Soon, Santa arrives and chooses Chris to receive the first gift of Christmas. Chris asks Santa for one of the bells from his sleigh, so an elf cuts one from the harness and tosses it to Santa. Santa declares it the first gift of Christmas and gives it to Chris, who puts it in his robe pocket.
After Santa leaves, the Conductor and the children get back onboard the train. The other children ask to see the bell, but Chris only feels a hole in his pocket when reaching for it. One of the children suggests they go look for it, but the train had already begun moving. When they arrive at Chris's house, Chris gets off and waves goodbye. The Conductor wishes him a merry Christmas, but Chris cannot hear it from his house, so he shouts it with his arms cupped around his mouth.
The next morning, Chris and his sister, Sarah open their presents. Sarah finds one small present behind the tree and Chris opens it to find the silver bell he lost. He shakes it and he and Sarah both enjoy the sound it makes. However, neither of their parents can hear it, as they do not believe in Santa.
In the beginning, most of Chris' friends were also able to hear the bell, but it would fall silent for all of them over the years, even Sarah. Though he has grown old, it still rings for him.
Role in the film
While the book only implies that Chris is losing his faith in the Christmas spirit, the film directly states his crisis.
Set in Grand Rapids, Michigan on one late snowy Christmas Eve, Chris thinks he hears Santa's sleigh bells, so he goes downstairs to find a shadow resembling Santa, but it turns out to be his father taking Sarah to get a drink of water. He goes back upstairs to his room and watches, through the keyhole, Sarah telling her parents about being told Santa does not exist, but her parents assure her that Santa will come. Chris looks into an encyclopedia, which says that the North Pole is "devoid of life." He also looks at an old magazine, a newspaper headlining a Santa strike, and picture of a girl with a department store Santa and pulling his beard.
Chris returns to bed, but is woken again when the train shows up outside. He puts on his slippers and robe and goes outside. The Conductor steps outside and tells Chris about the train, as well as some signs of disbelief in Santa he has been showing this year, including no picture with a department store Santa, no letter to Santa, and making Sarah put out the milk and cookies. Chris initially declines the trip, but just as it starts moving, he runs aboard the train.
Chris walks into the seating area to find other children singing the Polar Express song and he goes to take a seat. A Know-It-All kid in front of him looks back and asks him what kind of train they are on, leaving Chris in confusion. Hero Girl jumps in and says they are on a magic train going to the North Pole. Hero Boy asks her if they are really going there when the train passes by Herpolsheimer's. The other children were mesmerized by the Christmas display, but Chris smirks at the mechanical workings of the Santa figure.
When the Conductor comes to punch everyone's tickets, Chris does not know where his is. The Conductor suggests he checks his pockets. Only a hole is in the right one, but when he checks the left, he finds a ticket and hands it to the Conductor, who punches the letters B and E out of the left and right sides. Next, the train stops at Billy's house, but Billy makes the decision to get on the train a little too late. Chris stops the train for him by pulling the emergency brake. This briefly gets him in trouble with the Conductor until Hero Girl jumps in to explain his actions.
Next, a group of chefs and waiters enter the car to serve Hero Boy and the other children hot chocolate. After they leave, Hero Girl goes to give a cup she saved to Billy. Hero Boy finds her unpunched ticket left on her seat and goes to return it, but it gets blown away by the wind while he attempts to transfer to the other car. When Hero Girl finds out that she had lost her ticket, Hero Boy owns up and attempts to transfer his ticket to her, but the Conductor tells him he cannot do so and takes her away. Luckily, Chris finds the lost ticket, goes after Hero Girl and the Conductor, and along the way, meets a Hobo on top of the observation car. The Hobo offers him a cup of coffee, but he spits it out after finding out the Hobo washes his socks in it. After that, he helps Hero Boy get to the engine room before Flat Top Tunnel by skiing down the passenger cars.
In the engine room, Chris find Hero Girl driving the train. He then stops the train after they catch sight of a herd of caribou blocking the track, then helps Smokey, Steamer, and the Conductor clear the track. Later, the wind blows Hero Girl's ticket out of his slipper, but he and Hero Girl manage to grab it. Hero Girl thanks him for finding her ticket and the Conductor punches it. Everyone soon heads back to the passenger cars, going through the abandoned toy car where Hero Boy gets scared by an Ebeneezer Scrooge puppet being operated by the Hobo. In the observation car, he encounters Hero Girl and Billy singing "When Christmas Comes to Town" and watches the Northern Lights, before the Conductor shows up to tell them they are almost at the North Pole.
Soon, they arrive and get off the train. There, Chris, Hero Girl, and Billy end up exploring most of the area, including Santa's Workshop, after Hero Boy accidentally presses a lever that uncouples the observation car from the rest of the train, causing it to become a runaway. The children find their way back by following the sounds of the silver bells, which Chris could not hear. After he and Hero Girl chase Billy and his newfound gift in the Wrapping Hall, they end up in Santa's bag with Know-It-All, who had followed them around the whole time.
After they arrive at the North Pole Square and get rescued from the bag, Santa Claus arrives, but the Chris has trouble seeing him, and he still cannot hear "the most beautiful sounding bells in the world," according to the Hero Girl, but when a bell falls off a reindeer and lands at his feet, he still can not hear it ring (just the word doubter whispering) until after he whispers to himself, "I believe." Later, Santa chooses Chris to be the one to receive the first gift of Christmas, which is the sleigh bell that landed at his feet just then. Chris then watches Santa fly away in his sleigh. When Billy asks him if these events are just a dream, he responds with a, "No."
The children line up to get their tickets punched again. When it is Chris's turn, the resulting word is, "BELIEVE", but the Conductor interrupts him before he can read it out loud, claiming he does not need to know. With everyone back on the train, the children ask to see the bell, but Chris discovers that it fell through the hole in his pocket, much to his depression. Later, before Billy gets off, he thanks Chris for stopping the train for him and they say goodbye to each other. Chris also cheers up when he finds out Billy's present has arrived. Later, it was time for Chris to get off. He says goodbye to Hero Girl and Know-It-All, then gets off the train and to his house.
The next morning, when Chris and Sarah open their presents, Sarah finds a box that contains the sleigh bell and a note from Santa Claus himself, telling Chris that he had dropped it on his sleigh the night before and that he better fix the hole in his pocket. Chris rings the bell and he and Sarah enjoy the sound it made, but Chris' parents do not hear it when they ring it themselves.
Chris, as a grown-up, narrates the end, saying that even though he has grown up, he can still hear the bell, unlike all of his friends and Sarah, who were able to hear it when they were children but at some point lost their beliefs and thus their ability to hear it.
In the video game, Chris appears as the character which the player plays as in every level. In the first chapter, he helps the other children find their lost tickets, which were stolen by Scrooge. He also encounters Scrooge and his minions on several occasions and fights them. When he meets the Hobo on top of the passenger cars, the Hobo takes him on a ski down the hill and race the train. Later, when the children are being served refreshments, Chris fills in for a missing waiter. Hero Girl saves a refreshment for him.
He, along with Hero Girl and Billy, have several adventures at the North Pole. First, the observation car becomes a runaway and they have to avoid crashing into oncoming obstacles by tilting the car with the brake wheel. Next, they ride the pneumatic and make sure they open the right gates by hitting the correct switches. They end up at the Wrapping Room where Chris and Hero Girl get separated from Billy, who gets distracted by a present and follows it. However, they manage to make their way through the factory and reunite. Next, they find themselves at the bottom of the big pile of presents. They decide to climb up the pile, thinking an exit might be at the top, but by the time they make it, the presents are enclosed in a big bag and carried by a pair of zeppelins to the Square. They, along with Know-It-All, are taken aboard the zeppelins where the captain asks Chris to take the wheel while he goes to help the other elves. By the time they make it to the Square, the captain takes over again and the children go back to the bag. They are rescued from the bag after it lands on the sleigh.
Hero Boy appears as one of the pickups.
The wind blows Hero Boy's ticket out the window and gets it stuck on the observation car. The player, playing as Hero Boy, must walking across the passenger cars, dodging obstacles along the way, and retrieve the ticket. After that, they become the Hobo and ski back across the train to help Hero Boy back to the front passenger car before the train reaches Flat Top Tunnel, once again avoiding obstacles.
Behind the scenes
While Hero Boy's real name is never revealed in either the book or the film, several art books related to the film say that his name is Chris, named after the author of the book, Chris Van Allsburg. Tom Hanks also refers to him as Chris at one point in a behind the scenes interview.
Like most human characters, Hero Boy's animation was done through motion-capture, mostly provided by Tom Hanks with additional motion-capture done by Josh Hutcherson. However, some keyframe animation was done to perfect his movements. For example, whenever Hero Boy ran, Tom Hanks' adult-sized motion capture for him came out too slow for a child and was sped up by about 12%. Tom's voice would later be dubbed over by Daryl Sabara, who would mimic the voice of Tom while playing the role.
Hero Boy's computer model had gone through several changes before its final design. According to animation supervisor David Schaub, the original model had features more akin to that of a teenager. This was fixed by reducing his height by ten inches and making his eyes and head bigger. However, the animation data also had to be fixed as the original data did not work well with the changes.
In other languages
|Chinese||英雄男孩||Kang Dian-Hong (adult voice)|
|Finnish||Sankaripoika||Henri Piispanen (child voice)|
Markus Bäckman (adult voice)
|French||Le Jeune Héros||Maxime Baudouin (child voice)|
Jean-Philippe Puymartin (adult voice)
|German||Der Kleine Junge||Maximilian Artajo|
|Hebrew||הילד הגיבור||Tamir Ginsburg|
|Hungarian||A Kisfiú||Márk Jelinek (child voice)|
Ákos Kőszegi (adult voice)
|Italian||Hero Boy||Furio Pergolani|
|Japanese||Hīrō Bōi||Ryuhei Yamamoto (child voice)|
Toshiaki Karasawa (adult voice)
|Polish||Krzyś||Kajetan Lewandowski (child voice)|
Adam Ferency (adult voice)
|Portuguese||Herói||João Teixeira (Portugal; child voice)|
Diogo Infante (Portugal; adult voice)
|Romanian||Hero Boy||Carina Marin|
|Russian||Glavnyj Geroj||Dmitriy Martynov (child voice)|
Pavel Smetankin (adult voice)
|Spanish||Niño Héroe||Fabrizio Santini (Latin America; child voice)|
Óscar Gómez (Latin America; adult voice)
Andrés Arahuete (Spain, child voice)
Jordi Brau (Spain, adult voice)
|Swedish||Pojken||Calle Dahlström (child voice)|
Roger Storm (adult voice)
- Fritz the Dog appears in Hero Boy's room on top of the bedpost in both the book and the film.
- A picture of Babe Ruth an American professional baseball player was seen in the wall in the Boy's bedroom next to the window in both the film and the book.
- After Chris blows the locomotive's whistle, he says, "I've wanted to do that my whole life," in order to be a train engineer. In Back to the Future III, a film also directed by Robert Zemeckis, Emmett Brown says the same thing after blowing the whistle of Locomotive 131.
- "The North Pole?"
- "Are we really going to the North Pole?"
- "She didn't lose her ticket. I did. I was trying to return it to her, but the wind blew it out of my hand. You can have my ticket."
- "What about, uh Santa?"
- "I've wanted to do that my whole life."
- "I've wanted to do that my whole life!"
- "What about this red one!? It looks like a brake!"
- "Are you sure?"
- "ARE YOU SURE!?"
- "LOOK!" (pointing to the breaking ice with the help of his right-hand)
- "My slipper."
- "The Northern Lights!"
- "Look, I don't know if Christmas is gonna work out for you or not, but this is Christmas Eve! Don't stay here by yourself!"
- "We're gonna be okay. Maybe NOT!"
- "I believe."
- "It says..."
- "I've gotta find those tickets!"
- "That wasn't the one."
- "Hey. Slide this way."
- "Come over here."
- Schaub, David (November 23, 2004). "'The Polar Express' Diary: Part 1 -- Testing and Prepping". Animation World Network.
- Cotta Vaz, Mark. Starkey, Steve. (November 4, 2004) The Art of the Polar Express, Chronicle Books. p. 32. ISBN 978-0811846592.
- Behind The Scenes with Tom Hanks (timestamp 3:14)
- Schaub, David (February 15, 2005). "'The Polar Express' Diary: Part 2 -- Performance Capture & the MoCap/Anim Process". Animation World Network.
- Schaub, David (February 22, 2005). "'The Polar Express' Diary: Part 3 -- The MoCap/Anim Process". Animation World Network.
- Van de Wall, Virginia (December 4, 2014). "8 Mindblowing Facts About the 'Polar Express' Movie". J-14. A360 Media Entertainment Group.
|Children||Hero Boy (Chris) • Hero Girl (Holly) • Know-It-All • Billy the Lonely Boy • Sister Sarah • Gus the Toothless Boy • Boy on Train • Blonde Girl (Heather) • Little Boy • Young Boy • Steven • Unnamed Kids|
|Adults||Conductor • Hobo • Smokey and Steamer • Santa Claus • Pastry Chefs • Waiters • Hero Boy's parents|
|Elves||Elves • Acrobatic Elves • Elf General • Elf Lieutenant • Elf Singer|
|Animals||Caribou • Santa Claus' reindeer • Wolves • Other animals|
|Toys||Ebenezer Scrooge puppet • Scrooge's friends|