Express to Chug Ahead?

After a lackluster debut three weeks ago, Warner Bros.’ big-budget CG holiday feature, The Polar Express, picked up some steam over Thanksgiving weekend. With the holiday spirit growing in moviegoers and no new wide releases on tap, the film’s many pundits wrote off as an expensive flop may gain more ground this weekend and end up being the big engine that could.

With 3,650 theaters showing it, The Polar Express is on more screens than any other film in this frame. In addition to local multiplexes, the Tom Hanks vehicle is also gracing IMAX venues where it is being projected in stereoscopic 3D, allowing moviegoers to become immersed in Sony Pictures Imageworks’ rich computer-generated imagery.

If Buena Vista’s reigning box office champ, National Treasure, begins its slide down the charts this week, Express is in as good a position as any holdover to rise up to the No. 1 spot. Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles has done the bulk of its damage at the North American box office and Sony/Revolution Studios’ poorly-reviewed seasonal comedy, Christmas with the Kranks, hasn’t inspired much positive word-of-mouth since its moderately successful debut last weekend. With its holiday theme, Express should also have the edge over Paramount’s and Nickelodeon’s The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which is likely to soak up more clams when kids get let out for the winter vacation.

To celebrate last week’s boost at the box office, the Sony Imageworks crew and other team members behind The Polar Express cut into a big cake designed to mimic the film’s signature image of a train ascending a snow-covered mountain peak, as pictured in the main photo.

Main Photo: (Some of the Imageworks team: Debbie Denise, Yair Landau, Tim Sarnoff, Jerome Chen and Ken Ralston)