There are so many delights in Hugo, Martin Scorcese’s cinematic holiday gift, that it’s not unlike visiting a Parisian bakery—each visual bon bon is a mini-feast. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that Scorcese, filmdom’s king of R-rated thug operas, is attached to such a family friendly movie. But with Hugo, it’s as if he has inhabited this genre for a generation or two—the film is nothing short of a valentine to youth, adventure and cinema itself.
Based on the 2007 bestselling illustrated novel by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the film is perhaps the best use of 3D technology since Avatar and might well be a touchstone film for the day when the Motion Picture Academy finally creates a Best 3D Feature Oscar (and it will someday, I’m certain).
14-year-old Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) is Hugo, a Dickensian-like lad orphaned in 1931 Paris when his inventor father (Jude Law) is killed in a fire. Hugo is left by a ne’er-do-well Uncle to be a clockmaster in a Parisian metro station. Hour by hour, day by day Hugo secretly winds the massive timepieces, living in seclusion behind the clock faces. He quickly partners with Isabelle, played adoringly by 14-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick Ass, Let Me In). Their adventures, and there are many, circle around Hugo’s quest to find a mysterious heart-shaped key to bring life to an “automaton,” a mechanical man with a mysterious message.
Chloe’s guardian is Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), the real-life legendary magician and director of A Trip to the Moon and hundreds of other iconic silent movies from the birth of cinema. There are many artistic liberties in its plot, but ultimately Hugo is a tribute to Melies and a long-forgotten era when cinema was more poetry than prose.
The set, costumes and Howard Shore’s soundtrack are all lush. The film is far from perfect—it could have been trimmed by about 15-20 minutes—but Hugo is worth a couple hours in the midst of your holiday rush. And its sentimentality is candy cane-sweet.