"The Polar Express" is about a boy who finds himself one Christmas Eve, clad in pajamas and robe, aboard a train headed for the North Pole. There he discovers just how Santa and his legion of elves made all those toys.

Tom Hanks read the Chris Van Allsburg story to his own children when they were young and now he has helped turn the book into a movie that opens today.

Hanks plays the Hero Boy and four other major characters: the boy's father, the train conductor, a hobo and Santa.

Hanks, whose roles include the boy inside a man's body in the movie "Big" and the voice of Woody in the "Toy Story" movies, has won two Academy Awards for acting. He talked to Bridget Byrne about the movie magic in "The Polar Express," the challenge of playing those five characters and the real magic of Christmas.

"The reason it works for me to play these five parts is because they are sort of how the boy sees himself or his dad in different reincarnations," Hanks said.

Here are his descriptions of the characters he plays. Can you see how his face is reflected in the computer-generated images of the characters?

The Hero Boy: "The guy who's not sure where he is. He's not sure what's going on. He's still trying to figure out what are the rules of this universe he's in. Like, 'You can actually climb on the roof of the train?' -- that sort of thing."

The Conductor: "He's got a job to do. He's always five minutes late; somehow he's got to punch tickets and deliver the hot chocolate and get them to the North Pole on time."

The Hobo: "He's a mysterious rider of the rails. He's the questioner of everything that's going on. He's the guy who says, 'So, you believe in Santa, huh? That's good, that's interesting.' "

The Boy's Father: "He's just dad, a guy in a sweater who has to set up the electric train and who says, 'Okay, now time for bed.' "

Santa: "Well, hey, he's the big man!"

Tom Hanks provides the voice and the body actions for several characters, including the Polar Express conductor. The Hero Boy, right, comes upon a hobo (also played by Hanks) on the way to the North Pole.