This one is a winner. Pure and simple. And that’s exactly the appeal of it, too: it’s pure. And it’s simple.
“Hugo,” based on the book by award-winning children’s author Brian Selznick, is the story of a boy in 1930’s Paris who lives in a train station. His father (played by Jude Law) owned a clock-and-watch repair shop, and passed on many of his talents and interests to his young son, before he was tragically killed in a fire. (The mother is absent throughout.) So Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield, who also starred in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”) is forced to fend for himself, but it isn’t easy. He’d been sort of adopted by an old drunken uncle, who was supposed to maintain the giant clock in the Paris train station, but he disappeared one day, and Hugo was left to carry on by himself, which he was quite willing to do, because inside the clock tower was his private refuge.
His problem is that he needs parts: not only for the huge clock, but for the automaton (kind of a wind-up robot) that he and his father had worked on together. The only way to acquire missing pieces is from the little toy shop in the train station mall, presided over by the eternally grouchy Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), who doesn’t take kindly to his inventory suddenly sprouting legs and walking off. He suspects the ragamuffin little boy, but hasn’t caught him in the act---yet. Meanwhile, the truant officer (played to a fine self-parody by humorist Sacha Baron Cohen) is continually and ineffectually chasing Hugo through the station, trying to capture him and throw him into the paddy wagon to the orphanage. (Street urchins apparently account for a lot of the pilfering complaints in the vicinity.)
Finally, Hugo finds a friend, about his age, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moritz, of “Let Me In” fame), who’s willing to help him, and, it turns out, has a personal connection with the toy shop owner, so helps with a reconciliation, of sorts, where Hugo kind of works off his sentence in the Purgatory of the grumpy Melies, who, it turns out, has a few secrets of his own.
“Hugo” then kind of takes a left turn into embracing and celebrating some old cinema, which, after a while in a feature film, sounds a bit self-serving and self-congratulatory, but that’s a minor obstacle to the overall whimsy and charm of this crowd-pleaser. This is truly fun for all ages. See it in 3-D, on the big screen, and just enjoy the once-upon-a-time.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas