Right now, a mother lode gold mine of family friendly entertainment is available for viewing on the big screen. The animated “Arthur Christmas” is a critical darling and “The Muppets” seems to be getting a lot of love from everyone. If that is not enough, there is the uniquely innovative adventure directed with imagination and heart by a young whippersnapper who calls himself Martin Scorsese.
Set in 1930s Paris, “Hugo” is about a young orphan named, appropriately enough, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who lives in a train station full of idiosyncratic characters such as a comically menacing station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and a harsh toy salesman (Ben Kingsley). Hugo tries to start up an automaton, a self-operating machine, he and his deceased father (Jude Law) had begun to rebuild. With the help of a friendly book lover (Chloé Grace Moretz) Hugo is able to fix the automaton, resulting in a twist involving the history of cinema.
Based on the novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” the plot is as sophisticated as a PG film can be. The pacing is natural and never rushed, the humor is sly and screenwriter John Logan sometimes uses complex dialogue that may even baffle adult audiences. Scorsese treats his audience with respect, and believes the best way to tell a tale is not to consistently spoon-feed information, but to keep audiences guessing where “Hugo” will go next.
The only aspect that might be too obvious is the heart-shaped lock attached to the automaton. This feels too purposefully schmaltzy, though criticizing the film for this minor quibble is beyond nitpicking.
“Hugo” is moving, especially regarding its appreciation for motion pictures. Extended sequences include clips of old classics and could be considered nostalgic yet nontraditional, like watching something old with fresh eyes.
Characters, though sometimes overly eccentric, are all portrayed with detail and depth, thanks to the acting of Butterfield, Moretz and especially Kingsley — who after appearing in an oddly miscast role in “The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” is back on his A game playing an emotionally distant man whose motivation in life seems to have died long ago.
Scorsese directed “The Departed” and “Shutter Island” with the energy and style of a 20-something hotshot. He filmed “Hugo” with that same passion, from his style of shooting several key pursuit sequences in the train station to the interesting subplots that take place in the station itself.
This is an example of a 3-D journey that deserves to be experienced in the format it was intended for. The attention to detail is stunning, as Scorsese’s filmmaking captures the cold, snowy Paris days and makes the giant clock at the top of the station larger than life. It is rarely showy, and always eye-catching.
Opening with an amazing, nearly silent scene and ending with a bittersweet epilogue, “Hugo” rewards older silver screen buffs and children alike, which does not happen often in PG entertainment. Scorsese has created something that can only be described as pure magic.
Information about “Hugo” can be found at hugomovie.com.