tek's rating: ¼

Hugo (PG)
GK Films; IMDb; Paramount; Rotten Tomatoes; Templeton Gate; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Google Play; iTunes; Vudu; YouTube

Caution: spoilers.

This came out in 2011, but I didn't see it until 2022. (For a long time, I thought I didn't want to watch it unless I could do so in 3D, but I finally decided that would probably never happen. I still thought it looked kind of 3D-ish even in 2D, and anyway the visuals were great.) It's based on the 2007 novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret", which I haven't read. It has a bit of a feel of both fantasy and steampunk, though it isn't really either of those things. (TV Tropes says it is clock punk, which isn't something I had heard of, but it's accurate. Side note, when I paused the Blu-ray at one point, the status bar looked clock punk-ish, which I thought was a really neat touch.) I could also call it a family film, but I thought it's more for all audiences than for kids. And it's a bit of an adventure film. And it's at least partly based on a real historical figure, though mostly I think it's fiction, so instead of putting my review under "based on a true story", I've gone with "period pieces". The movie's worldwide box office was more than it cost to make, but it still (somehow) lost a ton of money, which is a shame. It's a really good movie.

It's obviously set in Paris, and Wikipedia says it's 1931. I didn't see or hear any mention of the year in the movie, but that sounds about right. There's a boy named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who lives within the clockworks at a train station. In a flashback, we see that prior to that he lived with his father (Jude Law), who was a clockmaker, I guess. Hugo's father found an old, unwanted automaton, and together they worked on fixing it up. But before they could finish, the dad died in a fire, and Hugo was taken in by his uncle Claude, whose job was maintaining the clocks at the train station. Hugo brought the automaton with him, and continued trying to fix it on his own. Before long, his uncle disappeared, so he was all alone.

Hugo steals things from a toy shop in the train station, hoping to use parts for the automaton. But he gets caught by the shopkeeper, Georges (Ben Kingsley). Georges takes Hugo's notebook, which contains mechanical drawings done by his late father, and refuses to give it back until Hugo earns it by working in his shop. Hugo also befriends Georges's goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who has lived with Georges and his wife, Jeanne, ever since her own parents died. Isabelle is a great lover of books, likes peppering her conversation with big words, and wants to have an adventure. She is friends with a librarian named Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee). And she has a key that fits into the automaton, which is necessary to make it work. It draws an image from a movie Hugo's father had told him about. (You're probably at least passingly familiar with the image of a rocket smashing into the eye of the Man in the Moon.) The automaton signs the drawing "Georges Méliès", which is Isabelle's godfather's full name. At the library, they look through a book about old movies, and learn he was the director of the movie Hugo's father had told him about. They also meet a man named René Tabard, who wrote the book they're reading, and runs a small museum dedicated to Méliès, whom he thought had died in World War I.

There are other things going on throughout the movie, like Hugo being chased by the station's police inspector (whom Wikipedia says is named Gustave, though I never heard a name mentioned in the movie; played by Sacha Baron Cohen). He's basically cast as the villain of the movie, but he's really just doing his job. And we're supposed to root for him to get together with a flower seller he likes named Lisette (Emily Mortimer). There are a couple other shopkeepers in the station who also make a connection, over time. Anyway... I don't want to say any more about the plot. But the movie turns out to be not quite as much about the title character as it is a celebration of the history of cinema, particularly of Méliès's massive contribution to it. And it works beautifully, in that respect. I think how much you enjoy this movie depends largely upon how much you care about the history of movies in general. But aside from that, it does also work as a story about Hugo finding his place in the world, and his friendship with Isabelle, and about Georges coming to embrace his past, which for reasons I won't get into, has haunted him for years. The movie definitely has a happy ending, for everyone. And there was one point where I thought the movie might turn into a true fantasy, when a bunch of drawings were flying around a room in a way they surely wouldn't in real life. But it didn't. The movie was still fairly magical, though, just without any actual magic, beyond the magic of old time moviemaking. And just a general sense of whimsy.

period index