The Hobo is a supporting character in the 2004 animated film The Polar Express. He is a strange man who lives on top of the Polar Express and rides it whenever he feels like it for free. He does not believe in Santa Claus or Christmas, but his negativity tests Hero Boy's faith. Throughout the film, Hero Boy is the only character who sees and directly interacts with him.
The Hobo first appears underneath the train while Hero Girl’s ticket was being blown underneath it. The ticket lands on his face before being blown away again.
When Hero Boy tries returning Hero Girl her ticket, he sees the Hobo's shadow from inside the observation car, though he initially thinks it is Hero Girl with the Conductor, so he climbs onto the car's roof. There, he meets the Hobo, preparing coffee over a fire while humming "Good King Wenceslas" and playing a hurdy-gurdy. Hero Boy says that he is "looking for a girl", though the Hobo laughs, thinking he meant a romantic partner. When he shows him Hero Girl's ticket, he realizes its value and suggests Hero Boy puts it in his slipper. He explains that he rides on top of the train for free whenever he likes and claims he is the king of it and the North Pole. He also offers Hero Boy a cup of coffee, though the boy spits it out when the Hobo reveals that he washes his socks in it. Afterwards, he questions him being the king of the North Pole, thinking Santa Claus would be more likely to hold that position, which leads to the Hobo mocking Santa by putting on a Santa hat and pretending to be a department store animatronic Santa. The Hobo asks why he wants to see Santa and Hero Boy explains that he wants to believe. The Hobo then hints that everything is just a dream and asks Hero Boy if he "believes in ghosts." When Hero Boy's replies "No," all Hobo says is "interesting." He mysteriously appears and vanishes in the snow, implying that Hobo may be a ghost.
The Hobo comes back and puts Hero Boy onto his shoulders to get ready to head to the locomotive, explaining that they must make it before they reach Flat Top Tunnel, which has only one inch between its roof and the locomotive's. However, when the train goes up a hill, they slide towards the back of the train. The Hobo manages to stop by grabbing the top rung from the train ladder with one of his ski sticks, but Hero Boy falls off his shoulders and ends up hanging off the edge of the train. The Hobo uses his other ski stick to save him and puts him onto his skis in front of him. Afterwards, the train begins to go down the hill and the two ski down the train, jumping from one car to the next. Hero Boy manages to jump into the tender of the locomotive just in time, but the Hobo mysteriously disappears.
Later, the train ends up on the Ice Lake and hits an iceberg, causing it to tilt and Hero Girl to nearly fall off. Hero Boy and the Conductor grab her and try to save her, but their strength proves to be too little. Luckily, the Hobo appears and after putting a finger on his lips telling Hero Boy not to say anything, he helps them get Hero Girl back on board, but the Hobo disappears before anyone else could see him.
While Hero Boy, Hero Girl, and the Conductor go back to the passenger cars, the Conductor notes that on his first ride on the Polar Express, he was saved from falling off the train by someone, or something, though he never figured out who or what it was. On the way, they go through the abandoned toy car where the Hobo, hiding on top of the car, uses a Scrooge marionette to scare Hero Boy.
He appears again to tap on the manual brake wheel on the speeding runaway observation car to show Hero Boy where the brakes are, then disappears again when he hits a wall as the observation car rushes through a dark tunnel.
The Hobo makes one last appearance near the end of the film, waving goodbye to Hero Boy from the roof of the train after he gets dropped off at his house, then disappears one last time.
The Polar Express: The Video Game
The Hobo only appears in the second chapter of the video game. Like in the film, he meets up with Hero Boy on the roof of the train, but not on the observation car, instead on one of the other passenger cars. Impressed with his determination, he decides to help Hero Boy get to the locomotive by skiing down the hill, not down the cars, with Hero Boy leaning from side to side to help steer. They eventually get to the bottom and Hero Boy makes it into the engine room.
"There's only one trick to this kid. When I say jump... YOU JUMP!!!"
"Take a break, kid! How about a nice, good hot cup of Joe?!"
The Hobo is one of many characters from the film to not be originally in The Polar Express book. He is also the only character in this situation played by Tom Hanks.
The Hobo tells Hero Boy, "You don't wanna be led down the primrose path!" However, the primrose path actually refers to an easy life. He probably meant "garden path," which means to be deceived.
In the deleted scene, "It Takes Two", Smokey and Steamer explain in the form of a shadow puppet show to Hero Boy and Hero Girl that the Hobo rode on the roof of the train one Christmas Eve a long time ago and gets killed after it goes through Flat Top Tunnel, and then say that his ghost still rides the train every year. Had the scene not been cut, it would have confirmed the Hobo as a ghost.
It can be speculated that the Hobo is Jack Frost rather than a ghost, due to his ability to appear and disappear into the snow and how he moved on top of a moving ice-covered train during a blizzard while carrying a child without trouble. Moreover, him calling himself the "King of the North Pole" would make sense as the North Pole is in eternal winter. The Hobo also appears to be a bit of a mischievous being, much like Jack Frost himself.