Halfway through this souped-up animated version of Chris Van Allsburg's beloved, concise children's book, my well-read companion, nearly 5, whispered, "They didn't put everything in the movie into the book." He got that right, but bigger isn't always better.
The Polar Express is about a doubting boy who boards a train bound for the North Pole, where he learns to believe in Santa Claus. The problem with this technically ambitious adaptation is that it pumps up Van Allsburg's simple tale, larding in new incidents (a runaway train, cracking ice) and characters (a scary hobo, a clumsy engineer). Though heartfelt, the film tries too hard to dazzle and thrill rather than echo its own message: just believe. Express was made using Performance Capture, a new process in which actors wearing sensors are filmed while performing; then computers take over, enhancing the footage to create the characters and backgrounds. The result is impressive, except for the characters' eyes, which look disturbingly dead, like glass eyes on a doll. (For more on Van Allsburg and the making of the movie, see page 127.) (G)