Even if it didn't boast state-of-the-art motion-capture effects, the holiday adventure The Polar Express would be a notable film for the way it patiently compiled an impressive box-office haul the old-fashioned way: gradually over time, thanks to strong word of mouth. That's a stark contrast to the usual harbinger of a film's success: the ritual, vigorous looting of moviegoers' pockets in one or two weekends, quickly, before anyone realizes the film stinks. Its slow build was probably due to a marketing campaign failure -- a blitz of television commercials that made the film's animation seem stodgy, dull, and flat. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Director Robert Zemeckis and his effects wizards faithfully render the distinctive style of illustrator and writer Chris Van Allsburg, the creator of the original children's picture book upon which the film is based, with magically arresting results. If The Polar Express flags a bit in the middle, it's due to the strain of stretching a very short story into a feature-length running time, but that's the only flaw in what is otherwise an instant holiday classic. Tom Hanks delivers a skillful performance in multiple roles (especially as the flinty conductor), and kids are sure to be swept up in the literal roller-coaster ride that the movie becomes. Though it's a polar opposite (pun intended) in tone, it is exciting to note that, just six months later, Sin City (2005) from director Robert Rodriguez represents a second notable effort to adhere as closely as possible to the creator's artistic vision and style, a remarkable and hopeful development in an era of cookie-cutter, corporate product.