November 11, 2004
arts. michigandaily. com
Jble iigan Ba
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Everybody's doin' the locomotion.
By Jacob Nathan
Daily Arts Writer
HANKS, VISUALS SHINE IN HOLIDAY FLICK
By Kai Qin
For the Daily
MOVI E REVIEW
Truly worthy adaptations
feat. The transformation o
paper to the silver screen is a
ing task that many filmma
attempted and few have j
well. They pander
demands and The
cripple the film Exi
with extraneous Quail
elements that are Sho
irrelevant or con- Warn
tradictory to the
book. "The Polar
Express," originally a 32-pa
trated children's book by1
alum Chris Van Allsburg,
where most have failed.
The film tells the story o
less young boy's journey to
cal land of the North Pole i
regain his belief in Santa(
the spirit of Christmas.A
way, he meets and befriend
of other children as they co
their magical adventure. Dir
ert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gum
to the Future") masterfully adapts the
book into a fully computer animated
feature film while staying true to Van
Allsburg's timeless tale.
The most distinctive aspect of the
are a rare film is its breathtaking visuals that rival
f ink on the technological innovation of 2001's
challeng- failed venture, "Final Fantasy: The
kers have Spirits Within." On an estimated $150
pulled off million budget, "The Polar Express"
is the first film that allows actors to
fully act out their scenes that were later
Polar digitized. This allows for a far more
press emotionally engaged performance that
Ity 16 & Pixar and Dreamworks are still not able
wcase to achieve. Robert Zemeckis's creativity
er Bros. is apparent from the design of the North
Pole and its fanciful functions, neither
of which were extensively described by
aged illus- the author. Zemeckis did, however, keep
University true to the book's beautiful artwork.
succeeds Each frame, along with Alan Silvestri's
surprisingly catchy score, perfectly
f a name- captures the vibrancy and surrealism
the magi- that distinguish Van Allsburg from the
n order to ranks of other children's authors.
Claus and In a rare achievement, Tom Hanks
Along the plays more than half the characters in
is a group the movie - much like Mike Myers
)ntinue on in the "Austin Powers" films. He is
ector Rob- the Conductor, Santa Claus, the Hobo,
p," "Back the nameless young boy and the boy's
Music REVIEW **N
The Ditty Bops win. With their
self-titled debut, they warm the cold-
est heart and make even the darkest
days a little bit brighter.
Through some strange twist of
fate, their unique and nostalgic
brand of folksy throwback melodies
is refreshing and uplifting, instead of
derivative and obnoxious. While not
noticeably different from the typical
drivel on National Public Radio, the
intangibles have all come together
for the Ditty Bops,
nies, lyrics and
ableness make for
a comforting and
of modernity into
and their harmo-
The Ditty Bops
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Maybe next year Santa will get you an Xbox instead of coal.
father. He plays all of the characters
with the delightfully charming Hanks
To expand the storybook into a 100-
minute movie, Zemeckis adds a series
of original action sequences and pleas-
ant illustrations of characters. The chal-
lenges of adapting such a short book
into a film are present in the extended
detours from the story's original plot,
but Zemeckis's innovative direction
compensates for this drawback. The
additional material in the film does not
seem out of place or drawn out. These
scenes, though supplementary, stay true
to the context of the book and often
offer greater insight into the characters
and, in the case of the North Pole, its
grand composition. As the children
explore the North Pole, the audience is
given a glimpse into a magical world
where cozy Victorian architecture
intermingles with modern technologi-
cal advancements. Children will marvel
at the way Santa and the elves fit all the
toys into one sleigh. For the scene in
which Santa embarks on his world-wide
journey, Zemeckis brings Van Alls-
burg's already vivid description to life
with a warm and engaging ambiance.
"The Polar Express" is truly a film
for a younger audience craving to see
a classic story on the big screen. But
parents will also leave this film with
smiles on their faces and Christmas in
'U' alum and author host
By Hriday Shah
For the Daily
Chris Van Allsburg, University alum
and acclaimed creator of children's books,
;straddles the worlds of writing, illustrating
and film. Van Allsburg is the author and
illustrator of unusual children's tales such as
"Jumanji," "The Garden of Abdul Gazazi"
,and "Two Bad Ants." After the success of
"JumanjP" at the box office, Van Allsburg
saw his work return to the silver screen with
the premiere of "The Polar Express" in his
hometown of Grand Rapids last week. The
event was both entertainment for local kids
and an opportunity to raise money for a local
hospital treating terminally ill children-
Before the premiere on Nov. 5, Van Ails-
burg had a moment to recollect on his favor-
ite memories at the University with The
Michigan Daily. Though "sitting lakeside in
front of Bursley" with his wife to-be, Lisa,
was an obvious highlight, Van Allsburg also
discussed his formative experiences studying
art and honing his drawing techniques.
He advises University students who have
aspirations as either writers or illustrators
to "keep writing and not have their spirits
dampened by minor setbacks." Van Allsburg
uses his own life story to prove this point.
He initially studied sculpting at the Rhode
Island School of Design, but indulged his
taste in are and, "drew pictures in (his) spare
time." With some prodding from his wife and
a fortuitous meeting with a publisher, Van
Allsburg chose to devote his considerable
talents to children's books. Two stories later,
Van Allsburg won the Caldecott Medal for
i Grand Rapids premiere.
his wildly innovative "Juruanji." He-also-won timesyoupjsrgt luvk
the Caldecott Medal for "The Polar Express"- Throghot tht session Van Allsburg
and the Caldecott Honorfor "The Garden Of showed his respect 9f the children's ques-
Abdul Gasazi." tiohs and treated tem' like resp6nhle"
The premiere was attended-by-more-than adults. He4eve joked with the ehildren about'
1,400 people, about half of them-children his elemntar
younger than 12. Before the movie, Van Ails-. ste There was nothing, wrong-with me"
burg took the time-to have a question and He euceuraged tht kids in-his tdieic tq.
answer session with these kids, wholoved-his-find spmething they are passionate' about and
work in spite of its challenging writing. -On-to keep 4oiag it to get better. E told the chb
his writing style, Van Allsburg said, "I dmt dren to betieve lu the spirit of Christzas,"
know. That's just poetry, isn't it? Sonietim-es-kjowihere is' a PolarExress because I ride.
when you're working on somethindy- '----t, but I may rode it opce, and 'mprettytaure.
an artist; it just seems like work,you know. ft's-thatts the nly dime you get to dit. You-have
not much different than pulling weeds out of a-te
garden. Other times when you're makingart, y sere ol& Em-gh-o& tk o
-you forget you're working-and-it just happens. north: But .f you.can't get on the tratii, et t.
Athletes call it 'being in the zone,' I guess ... test thing wouldbeco-mi-g andwatching it on
sometimes words just come out like that, some--t bigsc-een."
an older style of music is not a new
idea; it just works incredibly well on
this release. By not striving too hard
to be original and by having a strong
sense of what they are about, The
Ditty Bops made an enjoyable little
album. While it could be viewed as
being self-indulgent or meandering,
it is undeniably listenable.
The songs themselves are fairly
solid and the sequencing is spot-on.
On the first half of the album, the
tacks "Walk or Ride" and "Ooh La
La" offer a quick introduction to the
more traditional side of the Ditty
Bops and show that there is an appre-
ciation for older folk styles. The fun
really starts with later tracks like
"Four Left Feet" and "Wake Up."
The instrumentation is lush and
well-produced. Although not partic-
ularly inventive or challenging, the
straightforward sound is agreeable,
since it allows the focus to remain on
the bright vocals of singers Amanda
Barrett and Abby Dewald.
The Ditty Bops greatest success
is that they do not try to make this
album revolutionary. The charm lies
in both its insignificance and its sim-
plicity. The album is pleasant, and
it has no intentions of'transcending
By combining youthful exuber-
ance with old-world sensibilities,
The Ditty Bops have championed a
sound that is different and exciting.
The lyrics are clever; the delivery is
succinct, with the overall album so
cozy it will practically tuck listeners
in and even make them breakfast.
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