The film The Polar Express begins with a young boy laying in bed who appears to hear bells chiming and wonders if it could possibly be Santa Clause. He is perturbed to see his sister and father to be the source of the chimes. He goes into his drawers and pulls out articles and such on the issue of who plays Santa: the magical Chris Cringle or ones own mom and pop. This illustrates his doubt in Santa's credibility. Yet, in the 1985 book the boy says, "'There is no Santa,' my friend insisted, but I knew he was wrong." In the book form, the boy does not have the issue of not believing in Santa, yet the film created a dilemma that the boy had to overcome which was finding his Christmas spirit and believing. Another indicator of this is when he can hear Santa's sleight bells immediately for he says, "they pranced and paced, ringing the silver sleigh bells that hung from their harnesses. It was a magical sound, like nothing I'd ever heard." Only people who believe may hear the sleigh bells, since at the end of the book and film his parents cannot hear the sleigh bell he recieves from Santa. The movie demonstrates the moment when he overcomes this obstacle with the sleigh bell. He cannot hear it, yet all his new friends can until he says in an agonizingly sincere tone, "I BELIEVE." Finally he is able to hear the melodic chimes of Santa's magical bells.
Another addition to the movie that helped articulate the boys dillema was the bum on the train. Who was he? I believe he symbolized the main character's doubts and frustration with the myth of Santa Clause. He was cynical and vulgar, yet he always helped a person in need and vanished into snow. He would challange the boy by saying that Santa does not exist, yet ironically he is magical himself and should not exist either to the cynic. He wants to believe in magic and in Santa, yet he is approaching an age of adolescense where this is questioned. In the book, there is no "bum" character on the train and I believe this change made a big difference. The main character has a clear cut self discovery quest where he learns to believe in Santa and enjoy Christmas again. This difference made a difference.
Another huge difference is the fact that there are other children the boy befriends on the express in the film adaptation. He meets a sweet young girl and also a meek little boy. He ends up having a very strong bond with the both of them as they help him on his journey to believe. Having these extra characters adds human qualities to the story and allows the viewer to connect emotionally. As well, the meek young boy has his own quest and story. We do not get to hear his whole story and how come "Christmas never works out for [him]," but we can see the change in his attitude through out the journey. I actually think it is clever to exclude his backstory because this gives opportunity for another story to branche off from this film all about the meek little boy. We see his journey from meek nameless young boy to Billy, who is cheerful about Christmas and ecstatic to see a present from Santa. It is peculiar how he is the only character who recieves a name. I don't know why the main character does not but I enjoy when Billy recieves his name in the film. It is when he finds his Christmas present in Santa's workshop and I believe that is the turning point for Billy. When he recieves his name, he grows into a different person. This is a significant difference from the short story that only shows one boys adventures to the North Pole. The film shows different perspectives on the journey: for children who are doubting Santa, for children who may not have the best holidays, and for children who a still firm believers in Santa and are full of holiday spirit (represented by the young girl). It is a film for everyone and appeals to every humans emotions.
The characters and the quests presented in the film made it completely different and more enjoyable than the childrens book. These are the most significant differences that made a huge impact. All in all, the film is fantastic and the book is a sweet story to read to young ones during the holidays.