“If you’ve ever wondered where you’re dreams come from, you look around…..this is where they’re made”-Georges Melies
Hugo is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a live action classic Disney film. Disney has made live action films and some classic Disney films, like Peter Pan and 101 Dalmatians, have been turned into live action films but none of them were able to truly capture the feel and texture of a Disney classic. The film Enchanted managed to capture the classic Disney feel but then sent it into the real world, allowing it to mix with the grit and grime of New York City. It made for a great film but lacked the purity that I attribute to Disney. Hugo however, though it had nothing to with Disney, was a classic Disney cartoon come to life.
Based on a book titled The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, the bulk of the film takes place in a train station in 1930’s Paris, except for a few flashbacks and two or three forays out into the world beyond the station. The film centers around a young man named Hugo Cabret (Asa Buttefield). Trained by his father (Jude Law) and his drunken Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) to make and fix clocks, Hugo begins to take care of the clocks in the station. When his father passes away and his uncle disappears, Hugo continues to fix the clocks, living in the walls of the station alone, attempting to avoid Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his dog who will send Hugo to the orphanage. Before he passed, Hugo and his father were working to fix an automaton, a broken mechanical man. Hugo becomes obsessed with fixing the automaton, hoping that fixing it will result in a final message from his father that will allow Hugo to make some sense of his death.
To fix the automaton, Hugo has resorted to “borrowing” parts from a toy shop in the station run by Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley). After Georges catches Hugo stealing, he decides to allow Hugo to work off his debt. As the two work together, we see the old, depressed and dejected Georges light-up a little bit, seeming somewhat happy for the first time all film. Hugo eventually meets Georges’ God-daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), an adventure hungry girl. Immediately becoming friends, the two embark on adventures together. Hugo eventually notices a key hanging around Isabelle’s neck, a key that is the final piece needed to get his automaton working. As the two begin to explore the origin of the automaton and the key, they are pulled into an adventure that uncovers the truth about Georges Melies tragic yet triumphant past.
This film had every aspect of a classic Disney film from the seemingly enchanted, grand settings to a villain dead set on stopping the story’s hero. The visual effects in this film were stunning, turning what could have a been a simple train station into a mystical world of shining gears and secret passage ways. Sacha Baron Cohen was perfectly cast as the villain, constantly chasing Hugo with his trusty dog side kick in scenes that are cartoonish and intense at the same time. The thing that makes me call this a classic Disney film the most was the feeling I got from watching it: profound joy. The film was a fairy tale within a fairy tale. Hugo and Isabelle are traveling through their own fairy tale while uncovering the fairy tale that is Georges’ past.
Without giving away too much I want to touch on how the plot of Hugo is immersed in the history of film. Ben Kingsley’s character is based a real film director of the same name. Directing and acting in a number of different films, Melies is most famous for his film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), made in 1902, which plays a central role in Hugo. Hugo takes a look at the true purpose of cinema, to create magic and wonder. Films can do amazing things and take you to amazing places and should be appreciated as such.
Nominated for an Best Picture in 2011 and earning 5 Oscars, including Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. I expected to like this film but I did not expect to be completely entranced by it. A visually stunning fairy tale with some fabulous actors, Hugo is one of the best films available on Netflix Instant Queue. Family friendly and with entertainment for everybody, I give this film an 8 out of 10.