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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although Hugo is a book-based period adventure about the art and magic of movies that may be a tad too mature for younger elementary school-aged kids. Between the orphaned main character (whose father dies in a fire), the looming threat of being sent to the orphanage by the mean station manager, and an extended sequence about the history of early film, it's unlikely that kids under 8 will follow the sophisticated story. Since author Brian Selznick's novel is aimed at middle-grade readers, that's a good age to target for the movie, too. Kids who do watch will take away worthwhile messages about perseverance and overcoming fears, and budding filmmakers will especially delight in the movie's second half. Expect a little bit of flirting and hand-holding, a few insults, and one drunk (adult) character.
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What's the story?
In this 1930s-set adaptation of Brian Selznick's Caldecott-winning novel, 12-year-old HUGO (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives in a Paris train station. His prized possession is an automaton (mechanical man) that his late father rescued from museum archives before his death. Hugo steals from the various shops at the train station to get by, but when he attempts to swipe a wind-up mouse from eccentric toy seller Georges (Ben Kingsley), he embarks on an adventure that leads him to uncover exactly what the automaton is and why it's important. "Papa" Georges' orphaned goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), befriends the mysterious Hugo, and the two explore the train station and Paris at large while evading the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who's notorious for sending unaccompanied kids to the orphanage.
Is it any good?
It might have seemed impossible, but Scorsese has proved that he can pull a Spielberg and create a magical movie -- about the magic of movies -- for all. Martin Scorsese isn't the kind of director you'd expect to make a spectacular film for families. He is, after all, the auteur behind such mobster dramas as Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed. But by selecting Selznick's genre-defying illustrated novel as his subject, Scorsese is able to tackle one of his personal passions -- the history of early film and a very real director named Georges Melies. Once Hugo discovers that Papa Georges is actually the long retired-but-not-forgotten prewar director, the story transforms into a visual love letter to the pioneers of film history, as viewed from the perspective of a young movie fan.
Butterfield is simply amazing. With eyes that evoke every emotion from awe to horror, the young English actor is a revelation, as is his on-screen connection to Moretz, one of America's best teenage actresses, and Kingsley, one of the best actors, period. Cohen provides much-needed comic relief with his manic portrayal of the crippled station inspector, who's also a lonely war veteran; and as film historian Rene Tabard, Michael Stuhlbarg is a stand-in for Scorsese and any serious film lover. The 3-D in Hugo is dazzling and the set pieces as visually appealing as an actual walk through Paris.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Hugo's message about the art of filmmaking. Are movies as transformational as Melies claims? What is the role of movies -- to entertain, to educate, to provide meaning? Do all movies fulfill that role or only some?
The movie says Hugo was looking for a message from his father but ended up on a journey "home." What does that mean? How is Hugo responsible for everything that transpires?
Fans of the book: How is the movie different than the story? What characters or scenes didn't make it into the adaptation? What did the filmmaker add that you liked? Why are changes sometimes made when books are adapted for the big screen?
- In theaters: November 23, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: February 28, 2012
- Cast: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee
- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Perseverance
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking
- Last updated: November 25, 2019
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