The Polar Express


The talented Alan Silvestri was given the reins to this movie, and well done, I might add. You may be familiar with Silvestri’s work from Van Helsing and The Avengers. I have yet to pick out a specific sound from him like I do with all my composers – he’s a sneaky one. No matter, because I’m too busy enjoying this soundtrack. Not all these songs are attributed to Silvestri, as they are older but chosen for the movie. You’ll be sure to know which ones though – I’ll even give you the year.

1.) The Polar Express – 3:25 Tom Hanks taking the lead and using the chugging beat of the train to keep time, the kids are the ones providing all the cheerful and speedy chorus. It’s a cute song and very fast. Hanks, as the conductor here, does a good job because he’s got to keep in character and sing…and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Hanks sing (or sort of sing, as he does here).

2.) When Christmas Comes To Town – 4:07 Sung by Matthew Hall and Meagan Moore, the kids from the movie, it’s a moving song with piano and soft orchestra filling in. I liked this point in the movie, with the aurora borealis making beautiful pictures in the sky, and Silvestri’s smooth notes. Add a dash of chorus and you’ve got a charming song.

3.) Rockin’ On Top of the World – 2:35 (Steven Tyler) Short but very swingin’ baby, yeah! Mind you – Tyler is scary looking as an elf, but that’s in the movie. This is a foot-tapping, jazzy little number that, while slightly odd for Tyler (not used to him doing swing style), could be a good song to dance to during a Christmas party.

4.) Believe – 4:18 (Josh Groban) The last time I heard Groban was in the Troy soundtrack. While I sort of dismissed him there, this song was one of the main reasons I strove to get the soundtrack. Using Silvestri’s sweet main Polar Express theme, he sings in that utterly wonderful voice of his about believing in Christmas and all it has to offer with the accompaniment of sleigh bells and whispering chorus. This song always makes me want to cry, I swear. But that’s a good thing. 6 star song. Love it.

5.) Hot Chocolate – 2:33 Jerking me out of my teary-eyed wishes is Tom Hanks and his troupe of dancing waiters serving up some hot, hot – hot chocolate! Peppy and jazzy-swinging with plenty of drums and brassy brass. Mmm…hot chocolate. It’s times like this I wonder if the chorus had a grand ole time doing this soundtrack…

6.) Spirit of the Season – 2:33 Probably some of the most uplifting and happy Christmas I’ve ever heard. I like the meeting of female and male voices in the chorus here, clear lyrics, and plenty of, well, everything. Very excited trumpet, happily jingling sleigh bells, flutes whistling up and down. Good times all around.

7.) Seeing Is Believing – 3:47 We finally get a good helping of Alan Silvestri’s work in a purely orchestrated sense. I love the echoing bells that begin this track. Very magical and winter-like. The song is interesting because it has a section that seems almost dark and sinister – guess that’s just Hero Boy’s doubt creeping in. But don’t worry because then it picks up on track 6 again, only this time without lyrics. Then of course, is the fastest orchestrated version of Jingle Bells/Deck the Halls I’ve ever heard (good luck chorus!). The ending is that fabulous Polar Express theme.

8.) Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town – 2:35 (Frank Sinatra) 1948 anyone? Good ole Frank and his old style version, jazzy and nice. Can’t go wrong with a little Christmas Sinatra. Especially with the sax in there.

9.) White Christmas – 3:05 (Bing Crosby) Yay Bing Crosby! Who remembers the movie by the same name? Great movie. With a little old age fuzz on this song to give it character (though it already had that), it’s still clear and leisurely. Gotta love Bing’s smooth, deep voice.

10.) Winter Wonderland – 2:43 (The Andrews Sisters) Another oldie sung by a group of ladies, backed up by some happy whistling. Their voices do most of the work, but that doesn’t mean a piano and trumpet can’t pop in now and then.

11.) It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – 2:40 (Perry Como and The Fontane Sisters Song clarity got much better in 1951 apparently. Less fuzz by far. Definitely Christmas in this song, clarinets and bells and other instruments tooting along as Perry and the Sisters alternate on and off and occasionally mesh together. (except that laughing part was kind of scary)

12.) Silver Bells – 2:39 (Kate Smith) Ah, even better in 1966. Interesting how the song styles haven’t changed much over the years. Hooray for sleigh bells and sliding strings. I just don’t like how the chorus only sings in my left ear on my headphones…what’s up with that?

13.) Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) – 3:04 (Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters) I guess the elves at the North Pole dig on the old music. Can’t say I blame them what with people like Mariah Carey getting all overboard with their songs. Though I wouldn’t mind if the Sisters toned down a little and let Bing do more singing – I like him. This one has a good possibility of making you toes tap on the floor.

14.) Suite from The Polar Express – 6:02 Could have easily been my favorite track on this CD, starting off with a flourish of the Polar Express theme, choir and all. I just love the way this sounds, magical with sparkles and all sorts of things. However, this is a compilation track and includes an orchestra only version of tracks 1, 2, and 6. At least it ends with a bit more of the Express theme.

As much as I did enjoy this soundtrack, I easily could have done with less of the older music in exchange for more of Silvestri’s work, if he had any more to give. I get the feeling I’m missing a piece here and there, such as when the train is skidding around on the ice. I buy a soundtrack for the composer and his magic, unless I want the extra stuff.

That’s my biggest problem with this soundtrack. No offense to Silvestri, but if I wanted to hear a collection of songs from the 40s-60s, I’d go out and buy one. I want his work. I was dying for that main Polar Express theme I tell you. That’s one of the main reasons I went out and got this soundtrack, aside from Josh Groban’s song. And guess what? Groban’s song is based upon that piece of music. Surprise, surprise. I knew I was going to get a few old songs on here, as I remembered one or two from the movie, such as track 11, but six of them? Mmph…

I know, I’m being pouty and Santa’s going to give me coal for it, but I always have certain expectations when it comes to a soundtrack and this one sadly fell short. Having said all that, I’m not denying it’s good. I know there are going to be a lot of folks out there who enjoy all 14 tracks of it. Several of those folks would give the CD 5 stars, I’m sure, but I’m just bummed about those extra songs. I can see myself skipping over them in the very near future.

As for Silvestri’s work, lyrics and such included, it’s all very good. He and a few helpers did great with “Hot Chocolate” and “The Polar Express.” There are a few songs I wish would slow down just a tick, but oh well. They’re all fun and happy and just right for the movie. I just really wish there was more of the main theme. It’s so good, I want more of it! Ah well. Whatcha gonna do? The purely instrumental songs that are on here are gold.

I don’t normally talk about CD inserts, usually because they’re pretty basic; track listings, a few pictures from the movie, the end. But the insert for The Polar Express is more like a mini-booklet – or should I saw mini-book? It’s almost like a condensed version of the book/movie because each page has a full picture and a few quotes on it, starting with Hero Boy’s (as he’s labeled in the movie, having no name) welcome to the Polar Express and leading all the way to the first gift of Christmas. It’s only after all that do we get a comprehensive listing of the tracks and their info. Well done; I like it.

Well, like a kid who got almost everything she wanted on Christmas, I’ll be content with what Santa gave me and be a good girl all the next year in hopes that next time all my little wishes will be granted.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

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I am an author, I sell books for a living, and I love music like there's no tomorrow. I've experienced much of this country, from forested hills of the East, to the golden plains of the Midwest, the sandy beaches of the Southeast, and the oh-so-majestic mountains of the Rockies. And when all else fails, eat chocolate.