In general, I haven't been a fan of 3-D, with its murky images and pathetic little cardboard glasses. But IMAX does it right, and I was astonished by how effective "The Polar Express" is in 3-D on the big IMAX screen. The theaters handed out new oversized 3-D glasses -- big enough to fit over your own glasses, light enough so you can forget them -- that made this the best 3-D viewing experience I had ever had.
As for the film, it's a movie in the process of becoming an enduring classic. It had the misfortune to open opposite "The Incredibles," which was an enormous hit, but it didn't fold up and go away. Instead, week by week, it kept discovering new audiences, as word of mouth spread. Its 3-D screenings at IMAX theaters are almost always sold out.
Tom Hanks is everywhere in the movie. He voices five of the characters, and provides the model for their body movements. Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis create something deeper and more mysterious, more filled with wonderment, than your usual slam-bang family entertainment. The film has the quality of a lot of lasting children's entertainment: It's a little creepy. Not creepy in an unpleasant way, but in that sneaky, teasing way that lets you know eerie things could happen. There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie. This one creates a world of its own, like "The Wizard of Oz" or "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," in which the wise child does not feel too complacent.
Those who know the Chris Van Allsburg book will feel right at home from the opening moments, which quote from the story: "On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly in my bed." The young hero is listening for the sound of sleigh bells ringing. He is at just the age when the existence of Santa Claus is up for discussion.