The moral of Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) costly The Polar Express film is that if you believe, some truly amazing things can happen. According to the classic holiday picture book the movie is based on, as long as you believe, you will be able to hear the sleigh bell's sweet sound. But if you go by early box office returns, not too many people are hearing the cash register's sweet sound.

The movie, with a lofty $165 million production budget, had a weak opening weekend, and now after its second week at your local multiplex, it is in an embarrassing third place in animated features behind Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and Pixar's (NASDAQ:PIXR) The Incredibles.

While the movie should be a brisk seller next year in the home video and DVD market, the fact that it has just now lapped the $50 million mark in ticket sales must be troubling to Time Warner. Does it still believe in a ringing sound that just isn't there? Actually, Time Warner is paying the price for being too greedy -- it chose to open the film way too early given the flick's Christmas Eve setting.

While going with a 3D version on the gargantuan IMAX (NASDAQ:IMAX) screens was a genius touch, it would have been better to have held off on the mainstream theatrical release until this week, when the holiday zeal really kicks up in earnest.

Opening in early November worked out fine for its funny holiday hit Elf last year, but that film eventually faded away long before late December. In fact, by the time Christmas week rolled around, Elf was already a distant 10th at the box office. That's what's really bad news for Time Warner because the studio is probably still telling itself that big holiday crowds will come resurrect the film next month.

It can still happen. Families may flock to see this once schools let out for the holiday break. Yet if Time Warner thought the film would come rolling in with a head full of coal-powered steam, it's been in for a cold derailment. That ringing that Time Warner is hearing in its ears? That's just the aural aftertaste of getting decked by a little something called reality.

One film won't make or break Time Warner's year, but are there other problems at the company? What should it do about America Online? All this and more -- in the Time Warner discussion board. Only on

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz did see the movie over the weekend and wasn't all that impressed. Then again, his youngest son loved it, and his wife was in tears -- as she always seems to be when she pages through the book itself. He owns shares in Pixar. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.