Watching “Hugo” is like stepping into the candy-colored pages of the book upon which the film is based.
It’s beautiful, fantastical and a little overwhelming. But “Hugo” is more than what meets the eye. Directed by Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”), “Hugo” is the live-action Disney movie that never was. It’s a beautiful homage to color, silent movies and the innocence of childhood.
Set in Paris in the 1930s, “Hugo” follows the story of the titular orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”), a boy who lives in the walls of the train station and winds up the many clocks inside the station. He dedicates much of his time to stealing parts from the toy shop in the station to fix a broken robot called an automaton that he and his father were working on before he died. However, he is caught in the act by the toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley, “Gandhi”). Hugo develops an unlikely friendship with the sad, broken toy shop owner and a crush on his goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz, “Kick-Ass”). The two kids eventually decide to team up to try to “fix” this sad, broken man and discover more about him than they ever dreamed of.
“Hugo” is essentially like two films; the first half is a coming-of-age, slice of life film, and the second half turns into a love letter to silent film and the lost early years of the film era. However, Scorsese weaves these two stories together seamlessly, with themes of broken machines, broken people and the physical manifestation of dreams. “Hugo” is literally the film buff’s dream movie, treating them to bits of film history, references and eye candy galore.
As the main character Hugo, newcomer Asa Butterfield’s electrifying blue eyes and purely emotive performance was surprising and pleasing to behold. Even though he is pushed to the backseat a little in the second act, Butterfield is the emotional core of the film. Moretz is adorably eccentric as the adventurous bookworm Isabelle, and is quite similar to many a Disney princess, especially in her soft, lilted speech. Kingsley is excellent as always, pulling off a subtly silent performance as George Méliès, a once-famed man who has succumbed to the sad, dull exsistence of a mundane life. Sacha Baron Cohen also gives a hilarious, but one-note performance as that station inspector who acts as the antagonist to Butterfield’s Hugo.
The rest of the prestigious cast, which consists of Helen McCrory, Christopher Lee and Jude Law, give off strong performances as memorable secondary characters in the many sweet subplots that appear throughout the film. The 3-D is worked beautifully into this film, giving “Hugo” a surreal, animated feel. Thankfully the 3-D is not overwhelming and supports the lofty vision that Scorsese has for the film. The elaborate sets and colorful costumes are also appealing, despite their childish implications.
The emotional moments and vividly colored settings recall classic films like “Mary Poppins” or “The Wizard of Oz” that can be appreciated throughout the ages. As a film that can be appreciated on all levels, both as a children’s film and as an homage to silent cinema, “Hugo” is a film destined to be a classic.