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Ross Family Movie Challenge: 'The Polar Express' vs. 'It's a Wonderful Life'

Every week EW’s Dalton Ross and his wife, writer Christina Kelly, have a… um, lively discussion about what movie they should watch with their two children (Dale, 12, and Violet, 9) that weekend. Now they make their cases publicly and you get to vote on the choices and decide how the Ross family will be spending part of their weekend. The power is in your hands, people. Last week, Christina’s selection of ‘Oklahoma!’ just squeaked by Dalton’s pick of ‘Escape to Witch Mountain.’  Read on and then vote for which film they should watch this week.

Dalton’s Pick: The Polar Express (2004)
Damn my wife. We agreed to both pick Christmas films this week, what with the big day coming up and all. And, of course, mere seconds after we did that she called dibs on one of our favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life. So I can’t say I blame you if you vote her way this time. That’s just a classic, incredible all-time film that practically makes me want to run outside yelling, “Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!” But I still need to put up a good fight, and I will let my selection of The Polar Express do the fighting for me.

The Polar Express comes from a big director (Robert Zemickis), has a big star (Tom Hanks), and cost a ton of money to make. Perhaps that is why I remember it being seen as something of a box office disappointment when it opened in theaters. But the film has endured thanks to a story — about a boy who is starting to have doubts about Santa taking a magical train ride to the North Pole — that feels both simple and epic. And the CGI animation (which features Hanks in a variety of roles) is still a marvel to look at. Honestly, the only thing this movie is missing is George Bailey and his trick ear. But I told you that dude would never make it out of Bedford Falls.

Christina’s Pick: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
I have to be honest. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the extra responsibilities that come with the holiday season. The cards, the buying, the wrapping, the cooking, the merrymaking. While it is all very festive, it is also exhausting. What I need about now is a relaxing night in my PJs, surrounded by my adorable kids and loving husband, and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life in the DVD player. I just love getting lost in the world of George Bailey (played by James Stewart, for those living in a cave).

I wouldn’t show this film to very young kids, but ours are now old enough to process some of its more mature content, such as George Bailey’s suicidal feelings, his scary stress-induced outburst at his kids, his weirdly abusive courtship scene with Mary, and the concept of having one’s dreams dashed. While the movie has a happy Hollywood ending, which never fails to elicit copious tears from me, there’s some harsh reality that comes before. George always does the right thing, but that means he becomes deaf in one ear, doesn’t get to go to college, and never realizes his dream of traveling the world. George has to watch his annoying pal Sam Wainwright get rich, while he engages in the quiet work of helping working class people get decent homes. He slowly becomes embittered, while remaining outwardly affable.

It takes a huge crisis and a guardian angel to help George realize how wonderful his life has been. Clarence shows him what would have happened to Bedford Falls had he never been born. And yes, those scenes are fairly over-the-top. Without George, Mary has suffered a fate worse than death. She’s an “old maid”!! About to close up the library! But this is just a quibble. I love this movie so much, and without it (and my karaoke rendition of “Santa Baby”), Christmas just ain’t Christmas.


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