Martin Scorsese, the director of gritty movies like Raging Bull, GoodFellas and Mean Streets, seems an unlikely person to have made a family movie – but then Hugo, his first film with a ‘U’ certificate, is no ordinary kids’ film.
Instead, it’s a love letter to early cinema, as seen through the eyes of a young orphan in the 1930s, Hugo (Butterfield), who lives behind the grand clock at a Paris train station following the death of his father. While the station inspector with a metal brace on his leg (Sacha Baron Cohen) occasionally notices him, and the station toy shop owner Georges (Kingsley) spots him stealing cogs and screws, no one actually realises the station is Hugo’s home. But he does live there, within the walls, keeping the clocks running and working on the mechanical automaton his father (Law) once brought for him, his only connection to a happier past. But when he is befriended by young Isabelle (Moretz) Hugo finally sets foot outside the station, and into an adventure that involves the final pieces of his father’s robot and her ‘Papa’ Georges’ secret life. Their discoveries will affect everyone in the station, from the flower seller (Emily Mortimer) to the hesitant older couple (Frances De La Tour and Richard Griffiths) attempting a romance.
Based on Brian Selznick’s award-winning book, this is not a movie for young kids reared on the punchy storytelling of Toy Story, Madagascar or Transformers. It’s a slow-burning one for adults and older children who love cinema and understand the sheer magic of it, how cameras, directors, actors and special effects can come together to tell a fantastical story in great detail, from the gigantic clock Hugo peers out of to the tiny inner workings of his mechanical puppet. It’s a film that pays homage to Georges Méliès 1902 film A Trip To The Moon and tips its hat at the comic genius of Harold Lloyd, while also invoking the nostalgic feel of French films from the 1930s (it will remind you of Amelie, which was also a homage to films of that era).
Amongst all of this cinematic magic, there are some terrific special effects (check out the train crash and the opening sequence) and delightful performances, too. While Moretz is slightly over-mannered as Isabelle, Butterfield has the right mix of cute and awkward as Hugo, and there is nice support from Kingsley, Law, Christopher Lee and Helen McCrory. Together, with Scorsese at the helm, they tell a dream-like story, and one that will hopefully encourage viewers young and old to treasure cinema, past and present, for many years to come.
Is Hugo suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
The train crash is quite startling, but there is nothing here that should bother children over the age of seven. (Children under this age would probably find the movie too slow to sit through anyway).