Posted on November 22, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drunken adult character
Violence/ Scariness: Sad losses of parents and mistreatment of orphans, characters in peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 23, 2011
Date Released to DVD: February 27, 2012 ASIN: B003Y5H5H4

Martin Scorsese’s enchanting “Hugo” is a thrillingly immersive adventure.  It is about two orphans trying to solve a mystery.  It is about the way that stories help us make sense of life.  It stretches from the very beginnings of movies and the transformation of images through imagination into pure magic to technological advances that go beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.  Scorsese, perhaps the greatest living master of cinematic storytelling and certainly the most passionate movie fan in history, waited until he and the medium reached a point where 3D was ready to be more than a stunt and become an integral element of the story and with his first film for families he stretches the frame in ways it has never been used before.

It is based on the Caldecott award winning book by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a Parisian orphan in the early 20th century who lives in the train station.  His inventor father (Jude Law) was killed in a fire, so he came to live with his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone), who wound and maintained the clocks at the station and slept in a little forgotten room inside the clockworks.  Now the uncle has disappeared and Hugo is trying to keep the clocks going so no one will suspect that his uncle is gone.  He is also trying to hide from the station inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen), a WWI veteran with an injured hand and leg who likes to catch stray children and send them to the orphanage.  Most of all, he is trying to repair a mysterious robotic machine that his father found in a museum.

They had been working on it together and with the help of his father’s notebook and the gears from some toys he has stolen from the station’s toy shop he is getting close.  But then the proprietor of the toy shop (Ben Kingsley) has confiscated the notebook.  The proprietor’s adopted daughter, the book-loving Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz of “Kick-Ass”) who is hoping for an adventure, holds the key to the mystery in more ways than one. From the opening moment, with ticking sounds that surround us as Hugo peeks out from the number 4 on a huge clock dial.  The intricate pendulums, gears, and catwalks hidden inside the upper reaches of the station are enthralling, with brilliant production design by Dante Ferretti that seems to surround us.

Occasionally Scorsese will tease us a bit with 3D effects — the inspector’s nose is one example.  But more often it is subtly done.  Dust motes glisten several feet in front of the screen to create a sustained illusion of depth. The children’s search takes them to the movies and then to a library where they research the brief history of cinema from its invention by the Lumière brothers and the early audiences who jumped when they saw a train coming toward them on the screen.  They see Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a giant clock in “Safety Last” and we get glimpses of classics from Buster Keaton’s “The General” to D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance.”  And they meet a film scholar who has the last piece of the puzzle. Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan make the children’s adventure and the movie history mesh like the gears that operate the station clocks and the result is a rare story with something for every age.  Scorsese lingers too long on Butterfield’s face and some of the other images and some of the scenes could be trimmed, but by the time it all comes together in a joyous celebration of film it is clear that the ultimate tribute to the cinematic giants is standing on their shoulders. Parents should know that this film includes sad loss of parents, a drunken adult, mistreatment of orphans, child thieves, jokes about uncertain paternity, and characters in peril.

Family discussion: How do you discover your purpose?  Why didn’t Georges want to remember what he had done?  Why was the inspector so harsh?  Ask family members about a time they felt proud of fixing something.

If you like this, try: the book by Brian Selznick and the movies of Georges Méliès

Related Tags:


3D Action/Adventure Based on a book Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical Mystery Stories About Kids

9 Replies to “Hugo”

  1. My son loved this book! We can’t wait to see the movie 🙂 From the previews it looked really well done; I’m glad you gave it your seal of approval!

    1. I love the book, too! And I think the movie really does it justice. Let me know what you think, monkie!

  2. Saw this today and LOVED it! I almost never think the movie is as good as the book, and though I think the book is terrific, the movie does it justice and then some. It’s especially wonderful to see the bits of the old movies mentioned in the book. And the 3D felt like part of the poem, not just a trick.


  3. Hi, Nell. I generally dislike 3D, so I saw “Hugo” in 2D this past weekend. “Hugo” is my favorite Martin Scorsese movie, ever, and I now plan to see it as it was meant to be seen, in 3D.

    While not really for young children, it’s so playful and impassioned that I think it would mean a lot to children old enough not to be upset by the scenes of a sad and embittered adult (Papa Georges) being harsh to a young orphan. I think this is up there with Scorsese’s best movies (“Goodfellas” and “Mean Streets,” IMO). And bless Martin Scorsese’s heart for giving the best role he’s had in years to the great Christopher Lee. When is someone going to write a movie just for Lee?

    The two young leads were wonderful, the entire cast was terrific, Sasha Baron Cohen has amazing control of his body, and I loved the little dogs.

    1. Alicia, I am so delighted to hear from you and so happy that you enjoyed this wonderful movie. As you can see on the site, the Washington Area Film Critics Association gave Scorsese our top award this year and I am delighted. “Hugo” also won best production design, well-deserved. Thanks so much for a great comment!

  4. Thanks, Nell. I’ve been out of commission a bit for the past year because my brother and I moved my mother into Assisted Living after she broke her hip. Glad to be back!

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