16 Polar Express hidden details that prove the film really is a work of art
Sooo was it all a dream?
It’s a Christmas staple, the creme-de-la-creme of Christmas movies. Without fail, The Polar Express returns to our screens every year for a nostalgic viewing and that ridiculously satisfying hot chocolate scene.
You may have seen this film hundreds of times – thousands even – and know each scene by heart. But, it turns out there are so many crazy hidden details that make this film even more of a work of art than we thought.
You may back yourself as an expert, but the true test: have you ever noticed any of these 16 hidden details before?
1. Tom Hanks voices multiple characters
So apparently this is a slightly obvious one? Either way, I definitely didn’t notice this the first time I watched the film back in 2004 and I doubt you did either. Come on.
But yes, apparently Tom Hanks voices a whopping six of these roles. SIX. Of these, some are the future voice of Hero boy, the train conductor, Scrooge and Santa. Now that’s what you call range.
2. The boy main character literally doesn’t have a name
Honestly, it’s a true mystery why most viewers didn’t catch this little detail, or lack of detail, sooner. While you were probably just too caught up in the story to notice it on the first viewing, once you clock on, there’s literally no missing it.
Not only this, but none of the other children do either (apart from Billy). If you google the character list they’ll come up as Hero Boy, Hero Girl and Know-It-All. Fitting.
3. The train is powered by a Flux Capacitor – a reference from ‘Back to the Future’
Turns out the director of the film, Robert Zemeckis, also directed the all-time classic “Back to the Future”.
The Flux Capacitor – Doc Brown’s time travel invention in “Back to the Future” – can be seen in the train engines’ hub. This sneaky easter egg may also explain how the Polar Express is able to travel around the world and back again over the course of a single night.
4. There’s another hidden reference to ‘Back to the Future’ in a newspaper clipping
Towards the beginning of the film, the boy gets out a collection of paper’s which show why he’s come to the conclusion that Santa isn’t real.
A single silver sleigh bell has become an iconic Christmas image thanks to this film and the book on which it’s based. However, the use of bells is actually a really key feature in both the first and final acts of this film. They act as both the catalyst to the story that unfolds, but also the child’s proof of Santa’s existence at the end.
The film opens with the boy waiting to hear Santa’s sleigh bells on Christmas eve, but not hearing a sound until the Polar Express appears right in his front garden. Later in the film, he’s unable to hear them until he puts his faith to the test and shows the power of belief. A real cyclical moment, that.
6. The girl hides the hot chocolate twice
Undeniably one of the most iconic scenes in the film – it really is the most satisfying thing ever. However, whether it was an editing mistake or a small missed scene, we see the girl hide the hot chocolate twice.
During the jazzy “Hot Chocolate” musical number, the girl takes a cup of hot chocolate for Billy in the back car. First, we see her sneak a mug and hide it under the table, but when she’s given another she hides it under the chair. Very suspicious.
7. At the beginning, it’s clear there are five cars on the Polar Express, but in later scenes, the train is much longer
When the Polar Express pulls up in front of the boy’s house at the beginning of the film, you can clearly count the five cars of the train.
Those five cars are visible at other points throughout the film as well. But in some scenes, like when the train is riding past a pack of wolves, there seem to be closer to 20 cars.
8. Billy’s address may have been inspired by the director’s childhood home
Smokey and Steamer work as the fireman and engineer on the Polar Express.
In the scene where they’re scrambling for the fallen throttle pin, Smokey’s pant bottoms lift for a moment, exposing his appropriately festive Christmas-tree socks.
11. The Polar Express train defies laws of physics and bends
Fair enough, it is a magic train after all. But as the Polar Express ascends the last mountain to the North Pole, the train cars physically bend around the curves. Just saying.
12. The same faces are used on multiple elves
Some of the North Pole scenes show all of Santa’s elves gathered together. There are hundreds of elves, but very few distinct elf faces. It appears as though a handful of faces were repeated to create the large crowd of elves.
13. Santa appears in the bell in the final scene
The bell returns as a prominent symbol of the film towards the final scene – when the narrator is explaining when different people in his life stopped believing in Santa Claus — and therefore can’t hear the bell ring — a reflection of Santa briefly comes into view in the bell.
This gives the confirmation that Santa does indeed exist, at least to those who just believe. Very deep.
14. Reality is kept ambiguous throughout
Was it a dream? Was it real life? Who knows.
The Polar Express blurs the lines between dream and reality so much that at times we get genuinely confused ourselves.
If we’re being honest, most of the trip to the North Pole could be considered a dream, such as a train being on a gigantic rollercoaster track, but it could also be billed as Christmas magic. The sleigh bell is definitely a sign that all things did come to pass, but that’s also brilliantly left up to whether we truly believe it or not.
15. Santa is proper spiritual
Although he doesn’t appear until the final act of the film, Santa has a weirdly supernatural presence throughout.
The belief in Santa is presented as a test of faith and plays as a constant theme throughout the film, and Santa Claus himself is even given a big and almost angelic reveal when he finally does step out on screen.
16. The boy pulls out a magazine that is a near-identical replica of a real issue from December 1956
Although there isn’t much information on when the film takes place, the Hero Boy has a copy of a Saturday Evening Post magazine from December 29, 1956.
The magazine cover is based on a real issue, and many of the details are accurate, but there are slight differences in the look of the Santa costume.