The boy is getting too old to believe in Santa Claus, and this Christmas he's teetering in his convictions. One snowy night, a steaming locomotive manifests itself out of the dark and pulls up to a stop outside his house. A gruff conductor steps off the platform and asks the boy if he would like a Christmas Eve ride to the North Pole. Director Robert Zemeckis has done his best to stretch the unalloyed magic of Chris Van Allsburg's bittersweet picture book into a two-hour animated retelling with predictably diluted results. Perennial everyman Tom Hanks plays, well, every man, thanks to new motion-capture technology that allows him to turn into multiple CGI avatars. Even when the characters' movements are stiff and blocky, their faces still flex with Hanks' impeccable timing. The movie glows with the same soft pastels as Van Allsburg's magic-realist illustrations, but the fable's haikulike simplicity gets cluttered after being plumped out with subplots about missing tickets, hobo angels and aaagh! original songs. Scattered among the filler are scenes infused with real warmth and childlike awe; regrettably, they have to share screen time with more predictable moments. Seeing it may not become an annual tradition, but the children in your life will still be happy that you took them.
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