On Christmas Eve in the late 1950s, a young boy who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is hoping for belief in the true spirit of Christmas. He wakes up when studying evidence of the existence of Santa Claus, the protagonist hears loud screeching sounds and runs outside. He sees newly blown steam reveal a magical train called the "Polar Express." The conductor tells him that the train is headed to the North Pole, and is told that it is the boy's year to board it. Although he initially refuses, he boards the train at the last second as it departs from the neighborhood.