Reviews since 1993: A-E F-N O-Z Posters Who We Are and Why We Do What We Do Search the Site
Now in Release
DISNEY PIXAR DVDs
IMPORTANT NOTE: Martin Scorsese's name on this film DOES NOT mean Hugo is a heavy handed film, filled with violence and blood. Those thinking Scorsese isn't capable of making an equally terrific film for a family with little kids are very, very wrong.
IN SHORT: An exquisite piece of filmmaking. A terrific film, equally for the family or for non-kidlet bearing adults. [Rated PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking. 127 minutes]
The creators of Hugo have, in the course of two hours, delivered two movies stuffed to the gills with story, romance, film history and recreations/ restorations of some of film's earliest works. It is easily one of the Best of the Year on levels for both adult and kidlet viewers.
STORY ONE: Sometime around 1930, in the Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris, France lives an orphaned boy named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield). Hugo is 12. He comes from a family of clock makers, both his late father (Jude Law) and his custodian, uncle Claude (Ray Winstone), were in that trade. It is the uncle's job to maintain the clocks at the train terminal, though he'd rather be romancing a bottle of booze. With Hugo in his custody, uncle Claude can force his duties on to the boy while he drinks himself stupid. Eventually, uncle wanders off, never to be seen again. Hugo continues to handle the clock duties ... it's either that or be placed in the orphanage, considered a fate worse than death.
Hugo blends in with the crowds in the station and steals food and supplies from other vendors. It's easy enough to do if you're a child as long as you can avoid being captured by the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) or run down by his doberman, Maximilian. Or caught by an elderly man named Georges (Ben Kingsley), a tinkerer who sells toys from an off-the-main-drag (sic) booth. What would the boy need from a toy maker? Gears and parts and tools to repair what his father called "an automaton," something more complicated than a robot but essentially some kind of robotic mechanism, shaped like a man. Hugo's father found the mechanism in the attic of a museum where he worked. With Hugo, he was repairing the machine. It is work which Hugo has completed. The only missing piece? A key to fit a heart shaped keyhole and trigger the mechanism within the automaton.
Besides the automaton, all Hugo has of his father is a notebook with father's notes on the restoration process. When Hugo is caught by the toy vendor, the elder man confiscates the notebook and threatens to burn it. Which brings the old man's godchild, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), into the story. Hugo is befriended and begs the child to save his notebook. Hugo will also discover that Isabelle wears a heart-shaped key around her neck, given to her by her godmother Jeanne (Helen McCrory). And the story of the first half of the film is near complete.
STORY TWO: Hugo takes Isabelle to a moving picture show -- since they are forbidden to her by papa Georges -- The pair break in to a theater showing Harold Lloyd's comedy Safety Last. Isabelle likes what she sees. She asks the station's book vendor Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee), if he has any books about films. He will recommend a visit to a Film Society library. We'll come back to that in a 'graph.
As a matter of trust, Hugo shows Isabelle his secret world behind the walls of the train station where he lives and winds the clocks. Where the automaton sits, waiting for her key to turn it on. When that key is inserted into the automaton, it begins to draw an elaborate picture, signed with the name "Georges Méliès" -- the full name of the elderly toy vendor and Isabelle's godfather. What does the automaton have to do with a man who sells toys in a train station?
All the film students in our readership are no doubt jumping up and down with the answer. That answer occupies the back end of Hugo, in which the Film Society librarian Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg). tells the pair that Georges Méliès was one of the first and foremost directors of moving pictures who, unfortunately, died in The Great War. It is a fact that both kidlets refute by bringing said librarian to the Méliès house. There, Tabard will screen his personal copy of A Trip to the Moon for the children and mama Jeannes. The reclusive Papa Georges hears the film projector. Only then does he acknowledge his former career, and the heartache it brought his family.
Telling you all this, which brings you chronologically close to the end of the film Hugo, still tells you nothing that will ruin your experience in the dark. Director Martin Scorsese has delivered a marvelous motion picture that you can take your children to; that will teach them long forgotten history of the film business as its images fill the big screen with enchantment. The screenplay by John Logan is stuffed with additional story material, almost to overflowing, involving romance among the adults in the station: Flower vendor Lisette (Emily Mortimer) has caught the Station Inspector's eye and heart; he's just scared to death to make a move as he is permanently injured from experiences in The Great War. Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths) runs the news stand and has an eye for Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour), who runs the cafe.
And it is all in 3D which is almost too much to bear<vbg>.
For family friendly films, we only give a thumbs up or down. So, as simply as we can say it:
Released in a week alongside The Muppets and Arthur Christmas, Hugo should have long legs for the adult end of the audience. It is, simply, the best family oriented film we've seen this year (so far)
The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995 - 2017 by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, ™ their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award™(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.