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by Alan Rapp on November 23, 2011

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Hugo
  • IMDB: link

hugo-posterFor the first half-hour or so of Hugo you’re wondering to yourself why is Martin Scorcese directing a children’s story about an orphan who lives in a train station with a broken robot?

Don’t get me wrong, the characters are engaging and the look of the film (especially in 3D where the effects bring to mind a child’s pop-up book) are terrific, but the question still remains. And then this film about an orphan and his automaton becomes a story about a famous filmmaker and the celebration and preservation of old films, and you know exactly what struck the director’s fancy.

When we first meet Hugo Cabaret (Asa Butterfield) he’s living in the walls of the Paris train station. The son of clockmaker (Jude Law), Hugo was orphaned when his father died in a museum fire. Now all Hugo has to remember him is a notebook and a broken automaton his father was attempting to fix before his death.

Now Hugo lives in the train station working for his absentee uncle (Ray Winstone) whose job it is to keep the clocks around the station running on time – a job which has fallen to Hugo. When he’s not working, most of Hugo’s time is spent hiding from the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), and stealing food and odd bits here and there to work on his robot, mostly from the toy shop run by the elderly Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley).

Despite his trouble with Georges, Hugo is befriended by the old man’s god-daughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is determined to have a real adventure. After spending a little time together they discover each has a key (in one case literally) to unlocking the secret of the android and uncovering the forgotten past of someone very close to them.


Other than Kingsley, most of the adults are mostly window dressing for most of the film. This means the bulk of the story has to be carried by its two young stars. Butterfield (who some might remember from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) reminds me of a young Elijah Wood and Moertz reminds us all she can have all kinds of adventure without a mask, sword, and unlimited ammo.

Much like Hugo himself, the film (adapted from the book The Invention of Hugo Cabaret by Brian Selznick) is more than it initially appears. I’ll forgive it the predictable final act featuring eleventh-hour drama and the happy ending children’s stories are known for because so much of the film leading up to that point works so well.

I can even forgive its obvious championing of the preservation of old films (a cause close to the director’s heart) because it comes from a love of film and an appreciation of a filmmaker most people today aren’t familiar with. If the only thing Hugo accomplishes is to introduce a new generation to Méliès’ work it’s a success, but the film does far more.


Although aimed at a younger audience the film doesn’t talk down to its intended viewers. Instead it opens up a wide world and allows them, like Hugo and Isabelle, to discover the secrets within. Some of the supporting characters (Cohen, Frances de la TourRichard GriffithsChristopher Lee) are played mostly for laughs or ambiance, but before the end of the film Scorsese makes sure that the audience knows that a human heart beats within all of them.

Hugo is an easy recommendation and a great holiday film for the whole family that should not only entertain viewers of all ages but will open up young viewers to older films, and Méliès’ films in particular. A family flick that’s entertaining and educational? Yes, and it’s even in 3D.

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