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Hugo for Kids of All Ages

Maija Gustin | Wednesday, November 30, 2011


“Hugo” probably isn’t the movie you’re expecting based on the trailers you’ve seen. Yes, it is Martin Scorsese’s first foray into 3D filmmaking. Yes, it is a family-friendly tale of an orphaned boy trying to unlock a secret he believes his father left him. Yes, Borat plays an incompetent train station security guard. 

But did you know that “Hugo” is, along with all these things, a love letter to early filmmaking and the wonders of cinema for the people of the early 20th century? Ben Kingsley plays the pioneering French filmmaker Georges Melies, known for making early fantasy films in the vein of Jules Verne novels, the most famous of which is “A Trip to the Moon.” His works, all silent and all made in the years before WWI, are considered classics today, movies that truly explored, exploited and reveled in the possibilities of the new medium.

Whatever you may think of silent films, don’t let this keep you away from “Hugo.” If you’re a movie buff, you will be enchanted by Scorsese’s ode to the magic of making and seeing movies. But even if the mere thought of a silent film makes your eyes begin to close, the infectiousness of Scorsese’s storytelling will still likely enthrall you. 

“Hugo” captures what it was that made movies so amazing to the people of the earlier 20th century, people who thought moving images were just about the most miraculous thing they’d ever seen. Through this, you will inevitably be reminded why you venture to the movies yourself — to be amazed, to be sucked into a story, to see the impossible become possible and to see reflections of the world you’d never imagined. 

“Hugo” is, though, still a movie about a boy trying to find his place and his identity in a world that seems to have abandoned him. Newcomer Asa Butterfield — recently tapped to play Ender Wiggin in a film adaptation of the other famous futuristic, post-apocalyptic, children-forced-to-do-terrible-things book, “Ender’s Game” — gives Hugo hopeless longing for a family coupled with wisdom beyond his years that inevitably saves the cynical Melies from his own personal destruction. 

Chloe Moretz, who always seems to transcend her age as well, seems a little distracted trying to maintain a British accent, but is charming and a perfect companion to Hugo nonetheless. Sasha Baron Cohen is ridiculous as always, but provides comic relief and a little heart when he connects with the always-serene Emily Mortimer.

For “Harry Potter” fans, “Hugo” features not one but three of your favorite characters — Uncle Dursley (Richard Griffiths), Madame Maxima (Frances de la Tour) and Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy). Jude Law wins hearts in his small role as Hugo’s father while Christopher Lee plays a charming bookseller. Michael Stuhlbarg fills “Hugo’s” final hole as Rene Tabard, a film historian with the secrets to Melies’ past.

“Hugo” is not only Scorsese’s first 3D film, it is his first real family movie as well. He rejects much of the dark and twisted material that has driven his recent films for a movie that is all about growing up, finding a sense of belonging and keeping childhood imagination and wonder alive. It is a visually stunning film, one that’s color palette and Parisian backdrop come alive with the subtly stunning 3D camerawork.

Regardless of your familiarity with Scorsese’s work, with early film or with clockwork (a prominent presence in the film), “Hugo” is a truly cheerful movie perfect for kids of all ages during this holiday season. It certainly doesn’t need to be seen in 3D, but this is one film where it might just be worth it — not for visual shock, but for a beauty and depth of image that the master filmmaker captured perfectly.