Sometimes children’s films are far better suited for adults and the sight gags and silly dialog masks a deeper, more profound narrative. That’s the story with the visually gorgeous new film ‘Hugo’, based on the popular and inventive book ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ by Brian Selznick. Directed by cinematic master Martin Scorsese, it stars Asa Butterfield as the young orphan Hugo who lives at the Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris. It’s 1931 and The Great War is still very much a presence.
Hugo and his father salvaged an automaton abandoned at a museum, and when his father dies, the 2/3-scale clockwork man is all the boy has left, even as he’s rudely thrust into the care of his drunkard Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone). In charge of keeping the clocks running in the station, Hugo is very adept at all things mechanical and cannot stand to see anything broken or not performing the task for which it was invented.
Enter unhappy toy store owner Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), who catches the boy stealing and insists he work off the debt by helping fix things at the shop. The shop is located in the train station and it’s only gradually that Hugo learns that the gruff old man is one of the innovators of early cinema. Méliès has a young charge, a delightfully perky Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who becomes Hugo’s love interest and partner in crime as they try to fix the automaton and, eventually, repair the profound hurt and sadness of Méliès himself.
‘Hugo’ is both a fun and visually lush 3D world that’s undoubtedly going to get the nod for a visual effects award or two and a deep, thoughtful exploration of what it is to be human and to be part of a family. If the world works as a clock does — a key visual leitmotif — then is it just the lack of proper parts that keeps us from being happy, from being whole?
I really enjoyed this movie and plan on getting it in Blu-Ray when it’s released, and might go to the theater to see it one more time in 3D too. A warning, though: there are some scenes, particularly of early silent movies, that drag on and might be particularly boring for young children. Otherwise, go see it. It’s one of the most delightful and inventive movies of the year, with many amusing characters and an unexpectedly compelling storyline.