PG, 126 minutes
Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee
Scorsese’s film is a richly illustrated lesson in cinema history and the best argument for 3-D since James Cameron’s Avatar.
Based on Brian Selznick’s 2007 illustrated children’s novel, the story takes place inside Paris’s Montparnasse train station in 1931, where 12-year-old Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), the orphaned son of a clockmaker (Jude Law), lives inside the station’s giant clock, which he also maintains since his dissolute uncle left him with the job.
Hugo dodges among the station’s merchants and passengers , steals food from the café in the station, which is depicted as a kind of indoor village.
Among the shopkeepers is a testy old gent with a name that should ring a bell with film buffs, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). Méliès runs a toy shop, where Hugo pilfers parts for his secret project, repairing an automaton, or clockwork robot, which was bequeathed to him by his late father.
The old man catches Hugo one day and confiscates the boy’s notebook, also a legacy from his father. When Hugo attempts to retrieve it, he meets the old man’s bookish god-daughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz).
The tragic-eyed Butterfield and the luminous Moretz make an endearingly mature young couple, seeking friendship and adventure. Isabelle has never been allowed to see movies so Hugo decides to fix that and sneaks her into a showing of the film, Safety Last!, famous for its scene of Harold Lloyd dangling from a giant clock face.
Naturally, she is enraptured. Hugo also takes her to his own secret home in a clock, where, he realizes, the heart-shaped key she wears around her neck may be the final part he needs for his automaton.