In The Polar Express, the North Pole is portrayed as a city filled with factories. Every year on Christmas Eve, the Polar Express travels there, taking children to see Santa, who will give one of them the first gift of Christmas before leaving to deliver the presents. One year, however, there were some difficulties along the way, including a caribou crossing, a broken throttle and ice freezing over the tracks.
Despite these problems, the train was able to arrive at the North Pole five minutes early. When it stops at the Square, the Conductor all the children get off to see Santa, except Billy the Lonely Boy, who decides to stay behind in the observation car, but Hero Girl and Hero Boy go back to try to change his mind. However, Hero Boy accidentally steps on a lever which uncouples the car from the train, causing it to roll away and down a hill. Luckily, Hero Boy manages to find a brake wheel, thanks to the help of the Hobo, and stops the car right before it crashes. The children find themselves on a spinning turntable. After the turntable stops spinning, the children get off and try to find their way back to the center of the city by following the sound of the silver bells. However, only Hero Girl and Billy can hear it.
They soon arrive at the Communications Room where a few elves do some last minute work watching the children before leaving on the pneumatic to get to the Square. The children take the pneumatic too, but instead arrive in a big factory where they cannot hear the bells anymore. They find a present going down the conveyor belt, which is meant for Billy. Billy grabs onto it and Hero Boy and Hero Girl follow. They soon arrive on a big slide, into a black hole and onto a big pile of presents.
The presents, along with the children, are enclosed in a big bag with a small opening at the top, which is carried by zeppelins to the Square. While in the bag, something grabs Billy's leg, so Hero Boy and Hero Girl pull his arm to get him free. They find it to be Know-It-All, who claims he was in the bag to find out what he will be getting for Christmas. They soon arrive at the city center, but the bag hits the star on top of the big tree. Luckily, a few acrobatic elves manage to catch it and put it back on the tree just before it hits the ground. After the bag is landed on Santa's sleigh, the elves help the children out of the bag.
Soon, Santa shows up and everyone cheers, including the reindeer. This causes one of the silver bells to fall off. It lands in front of Hero Boy, who picks it up and rings it, but does not hear it until after he whispers to himself, "I believe." Santa overhears and asks what he said, but Hero Boy simply says, "I believe... this is yours," and gives it to him. Santa then talks with the children and decides to give Hero Boy the first gift of Christmas. Hero Boy sits on Santa's lap in his sleigh and tells Santa that he wants one of the silver bells from his sleigh. After which, Santa holds up the bell, declaring it, "The first gift of Christmas!" Suddenly, the clock strikes midnight and Santa flies away in his sleigh to deliver the presents.
It was then time for the train to take the children home, so the children line up to get their tickets punched by the Conductor while some of the elves use a handcar to retrieve the observation car and re-couple it to the train. The children get on and the train departs the North Pole.
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