HOLLYWOOD — The famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was transformed into a winter wonderland on Sunday for the premiere of “The Polar Express.” Organizers pulled out all the stops for the lavish pre-screening party, where guests were greeted by carolers, a mini “Polar Express” train, snow, Christmas trees, Santa Claus and six real reindeer.
But the biggest attraction of the day was the animated film’s star and executive producer, Tom Hanks, who arrived with his wife, Rita Wilson. Fans young and old were excited to see the actor, who happily signed autographs and chatted with moviegoers before entering the theater.
The film is based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg and centers around a doubting young boy who is taken on a magical train ride to the North Pole, where his faith in the holiday spirit is restored. “I think Chris Van Allsburg really wrote a masterpiece,” Hanks said. “The paintings in the book are really quite impressionistic and haunting.” Hanks added that he liked that the story was not a traditional Christmas tale. “It is not about somebody trying to keep Christmas from happening. It is all about whether one individual can honestly bring themselves to keep believing in the spirit of Christmas.”
In order to bring the book to life, director Robert Zemeckis used a new technique called Performance Capture. “The actors perform their scenes, a computer records it in three dimensions, and then we render it digitally and present it onscreen,” he explained. This innovative format made it possible for Hanks to play five different characters, including the train conductor, the doubting young boy and a hobo. But he said the role he enjoyed most was Father Christmas. “Playing the big man, Santa Claus, was my favorite,” Hanks said. “It is kind of like playing Elvis in an Elvis movie.”
For the film, Hanks not only reunited with Zemeckis (with whom he worked on Forrest Gump and Cast Away) but also his former “Bosom Buddies” partner, Peter Scolari, who plays a lonely boy. “I am honored that I got to be a part of this,” Scolari said. “Our friendship has spanned a couple of decades, and Tom and I had such a great time working together.”
The film also features singer Nona Gaye (the late Marvin Gaye’s daughter), who said patience and concentration were two qualities she learned from working with Hanks. “One moment Tom would be laughing with me, and then when Bob would say, ’It’s time to shoot,’ he would go over in the corner for two seconds and come back and be that character,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Also coming out to see the film Sunday night were actors Nia Vardalos and Sean Hayes, as well as Ice Cube, who brought his family to the premiere at the request of his 10-year-old daughter. “She read the book and heard about the premiere and here we are,” he said, before admitting that getting to see a new Tom Hanks movie was another reason he wanted to come. “He’s the man,” Cube said.