The Polar Express / Characters - TV Tropes (2024)

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Children The Polar Express Others

Characters in the book The Polar Express and its film adaptation.

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Hero Boy/Chris

Portrayed by: Tom Hanks (motion capture and adult voice), Daryl Sabara (child voice)

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The main protagonist of the book and film.

  • Author Avatar: He's named after the author, lives in the same town as the author did when he grew up, and is based on the real-life Chris when he was young and had a dream about riding a magical train on Christmas Eve. He even has a pendant from Michigan State University, where Van Allsburg attended college (and played host to the locomotive that inspired the titular train when it was on display there).
  • Butt-Monkey: Frequently serves as the first target for the Conductor's anger whenever the train makes an unexpected stop before he learns the true cause.
  • The Hero: There's a reason he's called "Hero Boy" in the credits.
  • Meaningful Name: Chris shares his first name with the book's author, and he's the hero of a story that takes place at Christmas..
  • No Name Given: His name is not actually mentioned in the film.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: An older Chris narrates the ending.
  • Took a Level in Cynic: Implied at the start of the film. It's mentioned that he used to be very into the idea of Santa Claus, but as the years went on, he became more cynical to the idea that he even existed, looking towards facts that disproved his very existence. The Conductor even mentions he sent no letter to Santa, had no picture taken with a department-store Santa, and made his sister put out the milk and cookies this year. The film sees this trope reversed by the end.
  • Took a Level in Idealism: He starts out having his belief in Santa very shaken, but has it restored by the end of the film.

Hero Girl/Holly

Portrayed by: Nona Gaye (motion capture and voice)

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A fellow train passenger who accompanies Chris.

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: When her ticket is punched at the end with the word "LEAD", she at first thinks it's pronounced like pencil lead. The Conductor corrects her and explains it's lead, designating her status as The Leader.
  • Big Sister Instinct: She develops one for Billy very early on and refuses to let him feel left out or left behind.
  • Cheerful Child: She's around eight or nine and is the most upbeat of the main characters. She marvels at the sights around them, is the most optimistic, and sings a happy Christmas song.
  • The Leader: She becomes the de facto leader of the kid trio over the course of the film.
  • Meaningful Name: Holly is a plant commonly associated with Christmas.
  • No Name Given: Her name is never actually mentioned.
  • The Smurfette Principle: The only female lead character in the movie.

Know-It-All Kid/Lenny

Portrayed by: Eddie Deezen (motion capture and voice)

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An Insufferable Genius kid who is another passenger on the train.

  • Deadpan Snarker: Is this concerning time in the North Pole.

    Chris: It's five minutes to midnight!
    Lenny: Of course it is. It's been five minutes to midnight for the last hour. We've got plenty of time. We've got nothing but time! We've got time to kill!

  • Ink-Suit Actor: Looks exactly like a kid version of Eddie Deezen.
  • Insufferable Genius: Lenny's not called a know-it-all for nothing. He'll frequently drop random complicated facts when no one asked. He even incorrectly identifies 1225's class, builder, and date of construction wrong.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While he can be annoying, and sneaks away to peek at his presents early, he, without any hint of reluctance, announces that he and everyone else on the train will help Chris find the bell he got from Santa after the former put it in a broken pocket and lost it.
  • Motor Mouth: Once he starts talking about stuff he knows, expect him to speak be at a rapid pace.
  • My New Gift Is Lame: In contrast to Chris and Billy, the only presents from Santa that he finds in Santa's sack are "stupid underwear."
  • No Name Given: His name is not mentioned, and he's referred to just as the "know-it-all kid." Supplemental material confirms his name is Lenny.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: He likes showing off his knowledge and he wears glasses.
  • Spoiled Brat: He sneaks away from the group and searches through the gifts to make sure he's getting what he asks for. All he manages to find addressed to him is one gift of underwear.

Lonely Boy/Billy

Portrayed by: Peter Scolari (motion capture), Jimmy Bennett (voice)

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A lonely boy who Chris and Holly befriend. He's the only kid on the Polar Express who's explicitly named on-screen.

  • Dark and Troubled Past: Implied, as his demeanor throughout the film suggests he doesn't come from a happy home. Considering the lack of Christmas decorations on or in his house at first, it's possible he's in a poor family.
  • The Eeyore: He's very melancholic throughout most of the film, with even less Christmas Spirit.
  • No Name Given: Averted, as he's the only main character whose name is stated aloud.
  • Took a Level in Cheerfulness: He's first introduced as quiet and reserved, but by the end of the film, he's much happier thanks to the friendships he's formed with Holly and Chris.

The Polar Express

The Conductor/James

Portrayed by: Tom Hanks (motion capture and voice)

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The conductor of the titular train, who is determined to make it to the North Pole on time.

  • Adaptational Badass: Railroading has its hazards, but for the conductor in the book, the job was relatively mundane for the trip to the North Pole. In the film, he not only has to deal with a few unruly kids, but he has to guide the train over a frozen lake after it speeds off the tracks and nearly drowns while it tries to outrun the danger.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: He didn't have much of a personality in the book outside of "friendly train conductor", so the film fleshes him out to be a more stern, yet Reasonable Authority Figure. He does oversee a train full of children, after all, so some discipline is required.
  • Berserk Button: Don't mess with the schedule on his watch. Come unnecessarily pulling the emergency brake or throwing a herd of caribou in the train's way, he's not gonna be a happy customer. That being said, he will back off if the hazard in question happened for good reason, or was beyond his control.
  • Clock King: A rare heroic example, he's dead-set on making schedule, and frequently checks his watch to make sure they're keeping to the timetable.
  • Connected All Along: Implied, as he mentions that on his first Christmas Eve run, he almost fell off the train when he slipped on the ice, only for something to save him from falling. That "something" is implied to be the Hobo who rides this train, showcasing that there was at least one interaction between the two in all the years, though the Conductor does mention he never saw what saved him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: He makes a few snide remarks throughout the film. Take this gem after Chris and the others are found in Santa's sack.

    The Conductor: Cutting it kind of close, aren't we?

  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: He sometimes uses the word "blazes" when he's upset, which is a more family-friendly equivalent of "hell". There's also "Jiminy Christmas" and "What in the name of Mike?"
  • Ink-Suit Actor: He looks a lot like his voice actor, Tom Hanks. Justified since motion capture was used for the animation.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He's very abrasive—especially if the train's running late—but he really is a good person. Notably, when Chris stops the train, he gives him a serious chewing out until Holly points to Billy sitting in the observation car and explains that he stopped the train to let him get on. He sheepishly backs off afterwards.
  • Nice Guy: He takes his job very seriously, but he's also kind and protective of the children who board the Express.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Even though he can be a bit strict at times, he is much more of a nice guy than he lets on at first. Not only is he willing to forgive Chris when he pulls the emergency brake switch so Billy can board the train (even giving the impression that he feels like a jackass for getting worked up over it without knowing the context), he even happily goes to deliver hot chocolate to the latter with Holly and even allows the latter to help run the train when it appears that she lost her ticket, possibly to exploit a loophole that the staff presumably don't need tickets. When Chris stops the train for the caribou, he initially believes Chris is "bound and determined" to stop the train from ever reaching the North Pole, but when alerted to the caribou, he turns his anger towards them. Even after that, several times throughout the movie he helps ensure the safety of all the children on the train and protects Chris and Holly from danger whenever the train is in a perilous situation.

The Hobo

Portrayed by: Tom Hanks (motion capture and voice)

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A mysterious hobo who, against all logic, rides on and seems to live on top of the train.

  • Ambiguously Human: He's heavily implied to be a ghost: he has the unnatural ability to dissolve his body into snowflakes, and is only ever seen interacting with Chris.

    The Hobo: One more thing… do you believe in ghosts?

    Chris shakes his head

    The Hobo: Interesting...

  • Ambiguous Situation: It's unclear exactly what he wants from Chris. He encourages Chris's skepticism about Santa Claus at first, but later angrily scolds him for being a "doubter" via the Scrooge puppet, and although there's a vaguely sinister quality to him, he saves Chris's life on three separate occasions.
  • Dead All Along: If a deleted scene is to be believed, the Hobo died many years ago when he got caught between the roof of the train and the ceiling of Flat Top Tunnel. Thus, his "ghost" still haunts the train he perished on.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When Chris is climbing on top of the train cars to chase after The Conductor and Holly, he first encounters The Hobo sitting by a small campfire playing, "Good King Wenceslas," on a hurdy-gurdy.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He is very rough around the edges; he uses a puppet of Ebenezer Scrooge to scare the Hero Boy at one point. He is also very vague and unhelpful whenever he answers the kid's questions, but he also saves his life on numerous occasions as well, and is implied to have done the same for the Conductor in the past.
  • Magical Homeless Person: He is strongly implied to be a ghost.
  • No Name Given: While everyone else of the main cast has their name either said in the film (Billy) or revealed in supplementary material (everyone else), the Hobo goes unnamed.
  • Out of Character: He controls the Scrooge Puppet to scare Chris once, and only once. Why he does this isn't explained, and he's been nothing but helpful to him throughout the film aside from this one moment. It's possible that he was trying to get Chris used to paranormal activity to make eventually believing in Santa easier.
  • Spirit Advisor: He's this for Chris, who's the only character who interacts with him.

Smokey and Steamer

Portrayed by: Michael Jeter (motion capture and voice—the former for both, the latter for Steamer, briefly), André Sogliuzzo (voice)

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The fireman and engineer of the Polar Express.

  • Badass Driver: When the Polar Express winds up on a frozen lake and off the tracks, the two pull some serious skill to line it up with the tracks on the other side perfectly while the ice beneath them starts to crumble.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Say what you want about their quirkiness or their tendency to be the butt of misfortune: they manage to literally DRIFT A TRAIN.
  • Butt-Monkey: Moreso Smokey than Steamer, but until the lake scene, they wind up getting harmed more than a fair share of times, including when they try to replace the headlight's bulb and after the pin sheers off the throttle.
  • By the Hair: Poor Smokey gets his beard yanked a few times. It proves beneficial when the caribou block the tracks, as the Conductor is able to assert dominance over the bull caribou by yanking Smokey's beard hard enough.
  • Curse Cut Short: "I'll tell you what's grass! Our—OW!"
  • The Ditz: A deleted scene shows the two of them aren't the brightest bulbs around, but they're far from incompetent compared to other examples. Still, Steamer should have known better than to shove a stuck throttle around when it jammed.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Downplayed, as the two are able to keep the train running smoothly, but before they hit Glacier Gulch, the throttle jams, causing Steamer to push her to dangerous speeds when the throttle sheers off.
  • Fat and Skinny: Smokey is the skinny to Steamer's fat.
  • Idiot Ball: The two aren't exactly the smartest tacks in the package, but Steamer should have known better than to try and fudge with the Johnson Bar when the train was approaching the steepest set of downgrades in the world. It doesn't help that they panic trying to recover the Cotter Pin while the train is literally sliding out of control.
  • Meaningful Name: Smokey is covered in soot, in reference to his role as a fireman, while Steamer drives the locomotive as its engineer.
  • No Name Given: Outside of a deleted scene, the end credits, and supplemental material, they aren't named in the film itself.

Ebenezer Scrooge Puppet

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A puppet who shows up briefly to antagonize Chris (although he was actually being controlled by the hobo in order to taunt the Hero Boy). In the video game, he is given an expanded role as the antagonist who steals the kids’ tickets. He hates Santa and does not want kids to believe in him, instead desiring for kids to believe in toys, and so wants to make sure the kids never meet Santa.

  • Adaptational Villainy: On two fronts in the game:
    • His inspiration, Ebenezer Scrooge, was a miser and Jerkass who hates Christmas and was widely disliked, but he never did anything outright evil, is sad when he learns of Tiny Tim's impending death, and eventually does a Heel–Face Turn. This puppet version outright tries to harm children and stays evil to the end.
    • The puppet in the movie was controlled by the Hobo and only briefly scared Chris. The puppet in the game is fully autonomous and has it out for all the kids.
  • Ascended Extra: In the movie, he (or rather the hobo controlling him) briefly scares Chris and disappears. In the game, he is the Big Bad who steals the kids' tickets.
  • Big Bad: Of the first four chapters of the game, where he steals the kids' tickets to get them kicked off the train.
  • Child Hater: He hates kids because they still believe in Santa.
  • Decomposite Character: In the movie, he was a non-sapient puppet who was briefly controlled by the Hobo to scare Chris. In the game, he's a completely separate, sentient entity with no connection to the Hobo.
  • Evil Laugh: Laughs a nasal one several times in the game.
  • Final Boss: The last boss fought in the game- uniquely, however, you fight him a good deal before the end of the game, as there are still three chapters left.
  • The Grinch: Downplayed- he doesn't outright hate Christmas, but he believes that what makes Christmas great is toys, not Santa.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In the first fight against him, his method of attack is throwing soccer balls at Chris- and kicking them back at him is the way to defeat him.
  • One-Winged Angel: In the game, after being defeated the first time, he comes back much later having grown big enough to break through the ceiling of the trail car.
  • Perverse Puppet: He is an evil puppet based on Ebenezer Scrooge who scares Chris and, in the game, is the Big Bad who wants to get the kids kicked off the train.
  • The Scrooge: Duh. His game counterpart thinks toys are what matters, not Santa.
  • Warmup Boss: Is the first boss, who tosses soccer balls at Chris.
  • Would Hurt a Child: In the game, he sends his toy minions after Chris and the other kids, and has no problem tossing soccer balls at them or trying to crush them with his fists.

Scrooge's Toys

A collection of abandoned toys who serve the Scrooge Puppet.

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  • Creepy Doll: The doll enemies work for the Scrooge Puppet and attack Chris to stop him from getting the tickets back.
  • Perverse Puppet: The puppets are recurring enemies who serve the Scrooge Puppet and start a food fight with Chris in the end of the first level.
  • Scary Jack-in-the-Box: The Jack-In-The-Box enemies help the Scrooge Puppet and attack Chris whenever he tries to get a ticket back from them.

The Polar Express

Portrayed by: Pere Marquette 1225 (design-wise and sound-wise), Sierra Railway 3 (whistle)

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The titular train, a 2-8-4 Berkshire steam locomotive that hauls children to the North Pole every Christmas Eve for a once-in-a-lifetime experience—and an important life lesson along the way.

  • Actor Allusion:
    • In Chris's room, there's a pendant for Michigan State University. 1225 was displayed there from 1957 to 1983, and served as the basis for the inspiration behind the book the movie is based on.
    • Her whistle comes from Sierra Railway 3, who had previously featured in Back to the Future Part III, another Robert Zemeckis film. As a bonus, her cab features a Flux Capacitor.
  • Adaptational Badass: Her book counterpart didn't face nearly as much danger as she did in the film.
  • Adaptational Species Change: Downplayed since she is still a steam locomotive, but Van Allsburg's original illustrations depicted her as a 4-8-2 "Mountain" type. In the film itself, she's a 2-8-4 "Berkshire" on account of the locomotive playing her.
  • Badass Crew: Her staff consists of a highly competent conductor, an insanely skilled engineer and fireman, and a team of the finest chefs and waiters any streamliner would gawk at.
  • Cool, but Inefficient: Despite generally being a Cool Train, before the Caribou Crossing, her headlight gives out. Then a worn pin in the throttle causes her to runaway when Glacier Gulch comes up.
  • Cool Train: Not only is she sleek and fancy, but she has a catchy theme song, and manages to ice-skate over a frozen lake, not to mention her job is to take kids to see Santa Claus.
  • Composite Character: Of two real-life steam locomotives. Her base design is a near-identical recreation of Pere Marquette 1225 (with a hint of Delaware and Hudson steam engines mixed in given her recessed headlight), while the whistle is taken from Sierra Railway 3.
  • Just Train Wrong: Cool Train aside, there are a few issues with its depiction.
    • The engine ends up going off the tracks and skates on a frozen lake. The drivers deliver an incredibly badass performance getting it on the tracks again, but had they constantly shifted gears like that in real-life, the running gear would have been destroyed.
    • She seems to keep losing and gaining coaches between scenes, even when she clearly loses the observation car (look closely and you'll notice the usual five cars are still coupled to her even after it gets disconnected).
    • In-Universe, Lenny incorrectly identifies her as a S-3 Class 1931 Baldwin, instead of a N-1 Class 1941 Lima like the 1225 actually is.
  • Multi-Track Drifting: After falling off the rails and onto the frozen lake, 1225 goes slipping and sliding until Steamer is able to get her under control.
  • Rule of Cool: Is the fact that she's able to physically bend around a curve like a snake, run down some very steep hills without derailing, jump the tracks and slide on a frozen lake, then get j-turned and perfectly get rerailed on the other side after her engineer lines her up perfectly something a steam locomotive could actually do in real life? Not in the slightest. Is it any less awesome to see? Nope!
  • Runaway Train:
    • When the throttle pin wears out and pops loose, she winds up flying all over Glacier Gulch's steep inclines before she jumps the tracks at a frozen lake.
    • Her observation car comes loose when Chris accidentally steps on the mechanism to decouple it from the train, then a jostle sends the car flying down the track before it crashes into a turntable stop.
  • Shout-Out: She has a Flux Capacitor in her cab.
  • Shown Their Work: The Polar Express is a near one-to-one translation (with the exception of her whistle and whistle placement, pilot, and headlight) of Pere Marquette 1225, with every sound she makes coming straight off her real life inspiration.
  • Spirit Advisor: Of sorts. The train only appears to children in a moment in their lives where they're struggling with who they are (i.e. Chris's doubt in Santa Claus, Holly's lack of confidence, Billy's loneliness, Lenny being a Know-Nothing Know-It-All), and takes them to the North Pole to meet Santa. Along the way, these kids manage to find themselves on a better path thanks to the journey they take.
  • A Wizard Did It: She's explicitly described as a Magic Train by Holly. Given that she does things a normal steam engine can't do, it explains a lot.


Santa Claus

Portrayed by: Tom Hanks (motion capture and voice)

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The legendary hero of Christmas, who travels around the world in one night to deliver toys to all the good children.

  • Big Good: Comes with the territory. The titular train was specifically sent so a few lucky kids could see him before his Christmas Eve run, and even takes the time to give one of them the first gift of the season. He also started a "re-bicycling" program to have the train pick up discarded and abandoned toys and take them back to the North Pole for refurbishment so they can get new homes.
  • The Good King: Discussed. When the Hobo claims he's the King of the North Pole, Chris asks how that can be, since Santa—the definition of the Big Good—is supposed to be the King of the North Pole.
  • Loved by All: Everyone in the North Pole loves Santa.
  • Santa Claus: Of course.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: He's a lot gentler than most examples, and it only takes a few words, but he sets Lenny straight when the boy begs to be the one who gets the first gift.

    Santa Claus: Young man...patience. And, a smidgen of humility might also serve you well.

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