An orphaned boy lives in a mammoth Paris train station, circa 1930s, hiding from adults as much as possible. Hugo keeps the enormous clocks in the station working, moving about behind the walls and in the ceiling.
The movie is also about the birth of motion pictures and about George Melies particularly, a film pioneer who had made 552 known movies before slipping into obscurity by the 1930s. Hugo is also about movies as an art form, with asides in many directions (for example, silent comedian Harold Lloyd).
Though this film is marketed as a kids movie, it isn't Disney, Pixar or anything I can quite categorize: it's perhaps simply a children's book (which it is based upon) brought to (cinematic) life, with the dilemmas of adults threaded through the story in an unobtrusive way, so the tale moves on several levels, and ends right where it started, with children.
Sacha Baron Cohen is the severe station master, handicapped from the first world war, who is the security officer for the station, and is in a long campaign to capture Hugo (which he eventually does).
The disheveled Hugo (Asa Butterfield) must not only steal in order to eat, he must elude the adults who have power to send him to an orphanage, a particular goal of the station master who seems to be regularly finding homeless children at the station, and is from an orphanage himself.
Hugo's freedom is based upon keeping the clocks working so that no one realizes that the actual station mechanic is dead, who was Hugo's deceased uncle who had taken Hugo in after the demise of Hugo's father (played in flashback by Jude Law).
The film is full of some middle-ground between all-encompassing CGI special effects which visually dominate the film and straight-forward Martin Scorsese camera-work telling the story of the interactions between the stories characters (such as Christopher Lee as Monsieur Labisse the station bookseller).
Original Page November 2012 | Updated Dec 2017
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From former screen legends who have faded into obscurity to new revelations about the biggest movie stars, Valderrama unearths the most fascinating little-known tales from the birth of Hollywood through its Golden Age.
Winner of the 2020 Peter C. Rollins Book Award
Longlisted for the 2020 Moving Image Book Award by the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation
Named a 2019 Richard Wall Memorial Award Finalist by the Theatre Library Association