Magic Tickets are magical shiny golden tickets which all the children need to have punched in order travel on the Polar Express as passengers. On one side is a picture of the train coming out of a tunnel while the other side reads "Round Trip" in the center with the words "The Polar Express" in cursive above and a picture of a silver bell underneath. They seem to magically appear in the children's possession sometime after they get on the train.
Role in the Film
For the trip to the North Pole, the Conductor punches two letters in each of the children's tickets, which become part of a full word or phrase for the return trip, which represents a message the child has learned during the trip. Hero Boy gets a B on the left side of his ticket and an E on the right. Know-It-All and Hero Girl each get "LE" on the left side of their tickets, while Billy's reads "ON" on the right side.
The Conductor comes around to punch everyone's tickets right after the train passes by Herpolsheimer's. He first comes to Hero Boy, who looks confused, so he suggests checking his pocket. Hero Boy only finds a hole in his right pocket, so the Conductor suggests the left, and sure enough, there is a ticket, much to Hero Boy's surprise. He hands it to the Conductor, who punches it. After Know-It-All gets his ticket punched, he claims to Hero Boy that the Conductor likes to show off his punching and wonders what his "LE" means.
Later, when Hero Girl goes with the Conductor to give some hot chocolate to Billy, Hero Boy finds her ticket, not punched, left on her seat, so he tries to return it, but the wind blows it away while he tries to switch to the observation car. It gets stuck on a window, so Hero Boy opens the window to retrieve it, but that makes it blow away again. It lands on the ground in the woods and is blown away yet again when a pack of wolves run past. As it falls towards a river, an eagle catches it and feeds it to its baby, but the baby spits it out. Having crumpled into a ball, it lands in the snow and rolls down a hill into a large snowball. The snowball hits a rock, causing the ticket to flatten again and land on the tracks in front of a tunnel. The train passes and the ticket gets blown underneath. It flies back into the passenger car and sticks onto the air vent.
At that moment, the Conductor realizes he forgot to punch Hero Girl's ticket and goes to do so, but Hero Girl cannot find it. Hero Boy explains the events and tries giving her his ticket, but the Conductor says the tickets are not transferable and takes Hero Girl to the back of the train, onto its roof and to the cab of the locomotive. Hero Boy, after Know-It-All says she might get thrown off the train, goes to pull the emergency brake, but stops when he finds her ticket on the air vent above, so he grabs it and goes after Hero Girl and the Conductor. On the train's roof, he meets a mysterious Hobo, who suggests he keeps the ticket in his slipper, which he does, then helps him get to the front of the locomotive before reaching Flat Top Tunnel.
While the train is making its way off the Ice Lake, the wind blows the ticket out of Hero Boy's slipper, but he and Hero Girl catch it. The train gets back on the tracks and Hero Girl thanks Hero Boy for finding her ticket. The Conductor overhears and punches Hero Girl's ticket with the letters "LE", the same as Know-It-All.
The Conductor punches all the children's tickets again for the return trip. He adds "ARN" to Know-It-All's ticket, resulting in "LEARN", though he initially reads it as "LEAN" due to his finger covering the R. Billy's ticket becomes "DEPEND ON", but it changes to "RELY ON" and "COUNT ON" with each time he flips it. The Conductor calls it, "some special ticket." He punches "AD" on Hero Girl's ticket to create "LEAD", which she initially pronounces as the metal ("like lead balloon") until the Conductor explains that it is like in "leadership". Finally, he punches "ELIV" out of Hero Boy's ticket, this time, behind his back. The resulting word is "BELIEVE", though the Conductor interrupts him before he can read it out loud, claiming he does not need to know what it says. Hero Boy boards the train looking at it and his ticket magically disappears in sparkles just as he puts it back in his pocket.
Behind the scenes
The tickets are an original element from the film; they are not featured in the original book. The film originally would have had the Conductor punch the entire words mirrored, appearing this way on both sides of the ticket. The idea was dropped when director Robert Zemeckis thought some children might be able to read backwards. Several alternate designs for the tickets were created before the golden design used in the final film was settled on.
The journey of Hero Girl's ticket was included as a way to feature the illustration from the book where some wolves watch the train as it passes through the forest. For a moment, the wolves strike the same pose as in the original illustration. The sequence would have also ran for five minutes and have the ticket be more sentient, folding itself into a butterfly or an airplane and flying after the train. At one point, while in its airplane form, it would get stuck on the tracks after hitting a tree, then a bunny would try to free it. This was cut out for time, shortening the journey to two minutes.
- Each tickets has a different number on them. Hero Boy's has 0001225, Hero Girl's has 0122500, Know-It-All's has 0012250 and Billy's has 1225000. Each one has seven digits with "1225" in it and zeroes filling the remaining three places. 1225 is the date of Christmas, 12/25, as well as the number of Pere Marquette 1225, the real-life locomotive which the Polar Express locomotive is based on.
- In one of the trailers for the film, Hero Boy's ticket magically appears in his hand as he is taking it out of his pocket.
- On some railroads, the tickets for The Polar Express Train Ride resemble those seen in the film. There are a few occasions in which the Conductor punches words out of them.
- In some international DVD releases of the film, the words punched on the tickets are changed to match the language of the dub.
- Cotta Vaz, Mark. Starkey, Steve. (November 4, 2004) The Art of the Polar Express, Chronicle Books. p. 38-39. ISBN 978-0811846592.
- Schaub, David (November 15, 2005). "'The Polar Express Diary': Part 4 -- Keyframe Animation". Animation World Network.