Hugo (2011, rated PG) is a Martin Scorsese film about an orphan boy who forms a relationship with an old man that turns out to be a famous director from the infancy of Hollywood who has gone into seclusion after World War I. In that vein, it is very similar to Finding Forrester and the plot revolves around the outcast protagonist slowly forming friendships while the past of the mysterious old man (Ben Kingsley) is revealed.
There is this orphan boy, Hugo, who lives inside the clock tower at the Paris train station. He is trying to rebuild an automaton that his father left him when he died, but to do this he needs to steal parts from a local toy store run by a grumpy old man (Ben Kinglsey). He wants to rebuild the automaton because he thinks the robot will give him a message from his father beyond the grave. The automaton eventually gets rebuilt and it draws a cryptic picture of the moon with a rocket in its eye from the famous Geogres Melies film A Trip to the Moon. So then the kid had to research this film, which leads him to a film museum and another character who in turn tells him the history of Georges Melies, whom they in turn find out is the same old man that runs the toy store that Hugo steals from. Meanwhile, Hugo is constantly on the run from a police officer who apparently arrests orphans for no other reason than that they are orphans. Does this sound confusing?
Yet, for all the clutter in the plot, the movie moves very slowly at first. There are a lot of annoying scenes of Hugo staring at characters that he interacts with; I found myself yelling, "C'mon...say something!" during these drawn out moments. There is a comic relief police office played by Sacha Baren Cohen, but like many other comic reliefs, he alternates between being comedic and being a threatening villain, so he comes across as being somewhat comedic, but in a creepy sort of way - the way an evil clown is funny but also disturbing.
The cinematography was pretty well done. Music was wonderful, a lot of great shots of giant clocks from the inside, of Paris streets, but it all has an unreal look to it, like bad CGI. It's not that bad; perhaps it contributes to the dreamy atmosphere the film is supposed to invoke. And there were some touching moments: Hugo develops a loving but chaste relationship with the goddaughter of Melies, it is really neat watching the automaton draw, and the film incorporates a lot of wonderful information on how movies were made in the earliest days of film. As entertainment, it succeeds, despite the cluttered plot and slow reactions of Hugo, who sometimes seems like he is mute.
The film is rate PG for "smoking", but really the only problematic elements of the are some frightening nightmare sequences that had my seven year old daughter getting up to leave the room. They are quite intense and might be disturbing for kids under ten, but they are brief.
The film was entertaining over all, but could have been better. Your kids will probably enjoy it, though younger ones might alternate between finding some parts frightening and some parts boring. Overall, I give it two out of three tiaras.
Review by Boniface