In 1930's Paris, an orphan lives hidden in a train station's walls. He takes care of the station's clocks, and tries to fix an automaton left to him by his late father. Based on Brian Selznick's New York Times best-seller "The Invention of Hugo Cabret".
Director Martin Scorsese is best known for his gangster movies, but here he gives us a touching family film. This is Scorsese's homage to movie magic and the power of imagination and dreams.
The first half of the movie introduces us to Hugo Cabret and the other characters. We find out how he came to live in the train station's walls, taking care of the clocks and stealing mechanical parts from a toymaker to attempt to fix an automaton left to him by his father. The automaton is complicated, and even when repaired, it doesn't do anything because it requires a key to unlock it's functionality.
Right in the middle of the movie, Hugo finally manages to get the automaton to perform it's magic, and while it isn't what he was expecting, it presents him with a new challenge, to discover the automaton's history and it's link to Isabelle, the girl who held the automaton's key. This is where the movie goes from good to great, as Hugo and Isabelle discover the automaton's story and it's link to a forgotten movie wizard.
I don't want to reveal too much about the story, so just let me tell you that it's really good, it's touching and magical for both children and adults. If you're a fan of movies you'll especially like the second part as it's one big homage to early cinema and forgotten heroes.
Most of the movie's humour, comes from the Station Inspector with the squeaky knee brace (Sacha Baron Cohen), but he is also a bad guy as seen through Hugo's eyes. There's also some humour coming from the character of Monsieur Frick and the dachshunds.
If pressed to find something I didn't like about this movie I'd say it's the repetition of the device of showing something as not working or going wrong, then showing the characters despair for a few seconds, then the problem fixes itself.
While all the movie's visuals are detailed and spectacular, I found the old movie footage to be particularly enchanting. This is also a movie with 3D effects done right. Every room has depth, and even people's faces in close up have real depth.
The derailment scene was my favourite, and it's a reference to the famous 1895 derailment at Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris (the same one depicted in the movie).
Steampunk Factor ★★★★☆
This isn't your usual Steampunk setting since it's 1931 Paris, however most of the story occurs in a station with steam trains, and there are plenty of scenes with Hugo and Isabelle inside enormous clock machinery.
The best feature is the automaton, which I thought was complete fiction. However this automaton is inspired by the Jaquet-Droz automata, built between 1768 and 1774. These automata are still in working condition (and can be seen at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire of Neuchâtel, in Switzerland) and are capable of drawing figures as complicated as the drawing depicted in the film. Many nuances such as the head following the pen as it was drawing and dipping the pen in ink are also present in the real life automata.
Final Verdict ★★★★★
A touching story that can be enjoyed by all the family, with enchanting visuals and 3D. You won't be disappointed!