The film The Polar Express is an adaptation from the children’s book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. The theme of the Polar Express lies in the struggle about losing one’s “childhood innocence to acceptance of pragmatic, mundane realities” (Vaz & Starkey, 2004, p.8).The Polar Express uses nostalgic scenes to create childhood memories for adults also who recalls their own excitement and expectations on the night of Christmas Eve. (Saltmarsh, 2009) In the film, the narrator recalls his childhood days on the night of Christmas Eve where he lies on his bed waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus. But instead he hears the sound of a train that stops in front of his house. (Vaz & Starkey, 2004) The main character is the Hero Boy and the other characters include Girl, Lonely Boy and Know-It-All-Boy. (Warner Brothers, 2005) The train conductor welcomes Hero Boy on board and he finds on the train other children who had been woken up from their beds too. They meet with many adventures on the journey through deep forests, mountains and ice mass before reaching the North Pole to see Santa Claus. (Vaz & Starkey, 2004)
The colors blue and red are used in The Polar Express to enable viewers to experience the contrasting moods of nostalgic scenes and Christmas scenes simultaneously. In the film, blue is constantly used throughout the journey that The Polar Express makes before reaching the North Pole. Upon reaching the North Pole, the color red is used to depict the Christmas scenes.
According to Vaz & Starkey (2004): There was a color palette developed for the whole movie. In the beginning, it was more of a monochromatic blue and green. It’s as we hit the North Pole that the clouds started lifting and the full palette of emotions starts coming back into the story in terms of bright, Christmasy color and light. (p.97)
Blue denotes “sadness” and “mystery” (Swallow, 2010). The color blue is used to convey a mysterious and gloomy mood in the film to viewers. The Polar Express travels at night as “the ever-changing landscape appears simultaneously mysterious and inviting with its deep, dark forests and snowy mountains” (Warner Brothers, 2005). The night sky that is constantly seen in the film is in midnight blue and adds a mysterious and gloomy mood to the film. The outside of the carriages of The Polar Express are blue except for the linings of the windows which adds to the element of mystery to the train. This is seen from the scene when Hero Boy wakes up from his bed, puts on his blue robe and rushes out of the house to find The Polar Express in front of his house. He is amazed and walks to the train to look at it when he heard the Conductor saying: “All Aboard! All Aboard!” He walks to the Conductor who asked him: “Well, you coming?” The Hero Boy asked: “Where?” The Conductor replied: “Well, to the North Pole of course! This is the Polar Express!” (Zemickis, 2004)
The color blue may also reflect the dream-like state of the Hero Boy. This is seen in the scene where the Hero Boy looks for the Girl who has lost her ticket. The background of the scene is in midnight blue which suggests that it is the Hero Boy’s dream at night. He meets the Hobo on the top of the train. After a conversation with him, the Hero Boy feels a sense of doubt and insecurity as he asked the Hobo: “We are all going to the North Pole, aren’t we?” “Aren’t we?” the Hobo asked. The Hero Boy replied: “Are you saying that this is all just a dream?” The Hobo played on his doubts and disappeared into the snow. The Hero Boy shouted: “Wait! Wait! Wait!” He then called himself to wakeup many times and tried to pinch himself awake and put his head in the snow as if it was all a dream in his head. (Zemeckis, 2004)
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“However, there are negative aspects to blue which indicate self-imposing struggle, a sense of martyrdom, and melancholy” (Stefanidakis, 2001). Blue is associated with the Hero Boy most of the time. He wears a blue robe throughout the film. The color blue may also convey the Hero Boy’s mood which is melancholic and nostalgic. In the Polar Express, the Hero Boy faces disbelief and doubts about believing in something indefinable. (Warner Brothers, 2004). He struggles with his doubts about Santa Claus and the Hobo (a ghost) is believed to be a manifestation of his doubts in the film. In the scene where Hero Boy is talking to the Hobo, he is constantly reminding Hero Boy why he does not believe in Santa and it is because he does not want to appear silly. (Zemickis, 2004)
“Red is a bright color, which also means joy” (Chakraborty, 2010). In the scene when the train moved along the bridges that lead to the North Pole, the Conductor laughed and said: “We made it! With five minutes to spare, we made it! Ha! Ha! Ha!” (Zemickis, 2004) The North Pole is a “quaint European-style city with winding cobblestone streets” (Greydanus, 2000-2010). The Polar Express passed by the brick buildings in the North Pole which are red. Thus, red is used to convey the jubilant mood as the Polar Express finally made it on time to the North Pole.
“Red is the color of Christmas” (Chakraborty, 2010). When The Polar Express reached the North Pole, the Hero Boy looked out of the window and said: “There should be elves, where are the elves?” The Conductor replied: “They are gathering at the centre of the city where Santa will give the first gift of Christmas.” “Who gets the first gift of Christmas?” asked Know-it-all Boy. The Conductor replied: “He will choose one of you.” Then, there is an extreme long shot of thousands of elves who are all walking in a grand procession to the centre of the city. The Polar Express moved slowly along. The elves are all wearing red costumes and red hats and walking to the centre of the city where there is a giant Christmas tree. The brick buildings in the background are also red. (Zemeckis, 2004) Red also represents the color of the Christmas spirit. (Chakraborty, 2010) Thus, the grand scene of the thousands of elves wearing red and also the red brick buildings in the background conveyed a Christmas mood to the viewers which is in contrast to the scenes before where the dominant color blue was used to convey a gloomier mood.
The color red is used as a visual cue to when Santa Claus is about to appear. In the scene when the elves are preparing the reindeers for Santa’s sleigh, the harness on the reindeers are red. Next, the elves carried the chains of bells which are held together with a red rope. There are thousands of elves cheering in the background as the reindeers and bells are being prepared for Santa’s arrival. The elves had prepared and delivered the gigantic red stocking filled with presents and placed it on the back of Santa’s sleigh. Finally, when all is done, there is an extreme long shot of the elves and the Conductor, Hero Boy, Girl, Lonely Boy, Know-It-All-Boy and the other children singing “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town!” Santa’s sleigh with the reindeers and gigantic stocking are all put on a raised platform with stairs that are red too. When Santa Claus appeared, there is utmost jubilation and cheering as everybody tries to get a glimpse of him. (Zemickis, 2004) Thus, the elves are red, the stocking is red, the stairs of the platform are red, the harness is red and the rope holding the bells is also red. Viewers anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus with the use of the color red and create an exciting and anticipatory mood for Santa’s arrival. It also represents the excitement that the Hero Boy and his friends felt when they are finally going to see Santa Claus.
Red means “frustration and anger” (“Interpreting Aura Colors,” 2006-2010) Red probably symbolizes the intense feelings of frustration the Hero Boy felt in the scene when he could not see Santa Claus but his friends could see him. The Girl said: “He’s here! He’s here!” The Hero Boy cried: “Where?” The Lonely Boy said: “I see him, he’s over there!” The Hero Boy cried: “I can’t see him!” and struggles to see Santa. He gets frustrated and cried: “I can’t see him! I can’t see him!” with all the elves who are wearing red are blocking his view of Santa Claus. (Zemickis, 2004)
“Red denotes purity, joy, and celebration” (Bear, 1997) Red probably symbolizes the joy that the Hero Boy experienced when he could finally hear the sound of the bell when he believed. The string attached to the bell is red. This is from the scene when a bell fell off the reindeer’s sleigh and the Hero Boy picked up the bell and shook it to hear the sound but could not hear it. He closed his eyes and said: “I believe, I believe, I believe” and shook the bell again, this time he hears the sound of the bell and also saw Santa Claus standing behind him. He was wearing a red suit and hat. (Zemickis, 2004) Thus, red may also mean the purity of thoughts that is needed to believe in something. Hero Boy was able to see Santa Claus only when he truly believed with his heart in him. In the extreme long shot where there are thousands of red hats being thrown in the air by the thousands of elves at the background after Santa has left to deliver presents; (Zemickis, 2004) red is probably used to convey a joyous celebration mood.
In conclusion, from my analysis of the nostalgic scenes and Christmas scenes in The Polar Express, the use of the colors blue and red by the director enabled the viewers to experience the contrasting moods simultaneously throughout the film. There is a roller coaster ride of emotions experienced by the Hero Boy and the director is able to use colors blue and red to show the change of emotions from “doubt and skepticism” (Kennedy, 2004) to frustration and happiness. After viewing The Polar Express, I was able to relate to the emotions experienced by the Hero Boy on Christmas Eve and the colors blue and red helped me to experience the nostalgic scenes and Christmas scenes at the same time.