The Hobo is a recurring character in The Polar Express film. He is a ghost who lives on top of the Polar Express and rides it whenever he feels like it for free. He does not believe in Santa Claus or Christmas, but his negativity tests Hero Boy's faith. Throughout the film, Hero Boy is the only character who sees and directly interacts with him.
Role in the Film
The Hobo first appears sleeping in a hammock underneath the train during the ticket journey scene. As the wind blows Hero Girl's ticket underneath the train, it lands on his face before being blown away again.
When Hero Boy tries returning Hero Girl's ticket, he sees the Hobo's shadow on the roof of the observation car from inside. Thinking it is Hero Girl with the Conductor, he climbs onto the car's roof. He meets the Hobo, preparing coffee over a fire while humming "Good King Wenceslas" and playing a hurdy-gurdy. Hero Boy says that he is "looking for a girl", though the Hobo laughs, thinking he meant a romantic partner. When he shows Hero Girl's ticket, the Hobo recognizes its value and suggests Hero Boy puts it in his slipper. He goes on to explain how he rides on top of the train for free whenever he likes and claims to be the king of both the train and the North Pole. He also offers Hero Boy a cup of coffee, though the boy spits it out when he finds out the Hobo washes his socks in it. Afterwards, he questions him being the king of the North Pole, thinking that role would belong to Santa Claus, which leads to the Hobo mocking Santa by putting on a Santa hat and pretending to be a department store animatronic Santa. The Hobo asks why he wants to see Santa and Hero Boy explains that he wants to believe. The Hobo then hints that everything is just a dream and asks Hero Boy if he "believes in ghosts." When Hero Boy's replies "No," all Hobo says is "interesting" as he mysteriously appears and vanishes in the snow.
The Hobo comes back and puts Hero Boy onto his shoulders to get ready to head to the locomotive, explaining that they must make it before they reach Flat Top Tunnel, which is only one inch taller than the locomotive. However, when the train goes up a hill, they slide towards the back of the train. The Hobo stops them by grabbing the top rung from the train ladder with one of his ski sticks, but Hero Boy falls off his shoulders and starts hanging off the edge of the train. The Hobo uses his other ski stick to save him and puts him onto his skis in front of him. The train begins going down the hill and the two ski down the train, jumping from one car to the next. As soon as Flat Top Tunnel's teeth fly out, Hero Boy jumps into the tender of the locomotive just in time after the Hobo mysteriously disappears.
Later, the train ends up on the Ice Lake and crashes through an iceberg, causing it to lean sideways and Hero Girl to nearly fall off. Hero Boy and the Conductor grab her and try to save her to no avail. Luckily, the Hobo appears and after putting a finger on his lips telling Hero Boy not to say anything, he helps them get Hero Girl back on board, then disappears before anyone else could see him.
He appears again on the speeding runaway observation car, tapping on the manual brake wheel to show Hero Boy where the brakes are while drinking another cup of coffee. He disappears again when the car rushes through a tunnel.
The Hobo makes one last appearance near the end of the film when Hero Boy is dropped off at his house. He waves goodbye to Hero Boy from the roof of the train before disappearing one last time.
The Hobo only appears in the second chapter of the video game and plays a less antagonistic role. Like in the film, he meets Hero Boy on the roof of the train, but not on the observation car, instead on one of the other passenger cars. Impressed with his determination in trying to return Hero Girl's ticket, he helps Hero Boy get to the locomotive by skiing down the hill, not down the cars, with Hero Boy leaning from side to side to help steer. They eventually get to the bottom and Hero Boy makes it into the engine room.
After the player helps Hero Boy retrieve his lost ticket, they become the Hobo and ski down the train to help Hero Boy return to the first passenger car before the train reaches Flat Top Tunnel. They must avoid obstacles along the way.
Behind the scenes
The Hobo'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 Hobo, as the actors did not wear costumes.
The Hobo would have been featured in the deleted scene "It Takes Two" in which his backstory is told. The scene was cut for time when the filmmakers thought it would make the film flow better. In the scene, Smokey and Steamer tell the story of the Hobo to Hero Boy and Hero Girl in a shadow puppet show. The Hobo rode on the roof of the train on Christmas Eve of 1933 and was killed at Flat Top Tunnel due to its low clearance. His ghost can still be seen riding the train every year. It also reveals that his name is King.
|Dutch||De vagebond||Frans Limburg|
|French||Le Vagabond||Jean-Philippe Puymartin|
|Hungarian||A Hajléktalan||Károly Gesztesi|
|Italian||Il Viaggiatore Solitario / Vagabondo||Francesco Pannofino|
|Spanish||El Rey del Polo Norte||Jesse Conde (Latin America)|
Jordi Brau (Spain)
- The Hobo is one of many characters from the film to not be originally in the book. He is the only such character played by Tom Hanks.
- The Hobo tells Hero Boy, "You don't wanna be led down the primrose path!" However, the primrose path actually refers to an easy life. He probably meant "garden path," which means to be deceived.
- In the film when Hero Boy, Hero Girl, and the Conductor return to the passenger cars, the Conductor talks about when he nearly fell off the train during his first ride on the Polar Express, though he never figured out who or what saved him. It can be assumed to have been the Hobo, but it is never specified.
- "Is there something I can do for you?"
- "Ain't we all?!"
- "I own this train. Oh, yeah. It's like I'm the king of the train. Yeah, the king of the Polar Express. In fact, I'm the king of the North Pole!"
- "Hey, would you like some joe? A nice hot refreshment perfect for a cold winter's night."
- "But, you don't wanna be bamboozled. You don't wanna be led down the primrose path! You don't wanna be conned or duped, have the wool pulled over your eyes. Hoodwinked! You don't wanna be taken for a ride, RAILROADED!"
- "Seeing is believing. Am I right?"
- "One other thing. Do you believe in ghosts?"
- "We gotta make the engine before we hit Flat Top Tunnel."
- "So many questions. There is but one inch of clearance between the roof of this rattler and the roof of Flat Top Tunnel. Savvy?"
- "You said it, kid. Not me."
- "There's only one trick to this kid. When I say jump... YOU JUMP!!!!"
- "Take a break, kid! How about a nice, good hot cup of Joe?!"
- Cotta Vaz, Mark. Starkey, Steve. (November 4, 2004) The Art of the Polar Express, Chronicle Books. p. 28 & 57. ISBN 978-0811846592.
- Schaub, David (November 23, 2004). "'The Polar Express' Diary: Part 1 -- Testing and Prepping". Animation World Network.