Hugo has been making waves with families and critics since Christmas -- and now it's leading the list of Oscar nominees with 11 Academy Award nods, including Best Picture and Best Director. If you plan to catch up on Oscar faves before the big show on Feb. 26, this is the one to see -- and don't forget to bring the kids. You may have heard buzz about the movie's directing and cinematography, but it's Hugo's role models, messages, and stellar storytelling that won our hearts.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this book-based period adventure about the art and magic of movies is rated PG, it 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.
Educational value: Kids will learn about the history of film, silent movies, and real-life French director Georges Melies, who made hundreds of the earliest short films in movie history.
Positive messages: The movie emphasizes the importance of films and how magical movies can be for their audience. Hugo's relentless faith in his father, in his mission to fix the broken, ends up being a metaphor for healing Melies' broken heart. Hugo and Isabelle discuss how everyone -- every thing -- has a purpose, and you just have to find out what it is for that purpose to be met.
Positive role models: Hugo and Isabelle are brave kids who overcome their fears to discover the truth. Their perseverance, even in the face of danger, sets an example for adolescents to follow their passion, seek the truth, and help fix what's broken in the world.
Violence & scariness: Hugo's father is killed in a fire. The station inspector sics his Doberman on unaccompanied kids and then brusquely throws them into the station jail before transferring them to an orphanage. In a nightmare, Hugo dreams that he's about to be run over by a train and then that he transforms into the automaton.
Sexy stuff: Two different sets of adults flirt with each other and are shown walking hand and hand. Married Papa Georges recalls his love of Mama Jeanne, and the two embrace and kiss. Hugo and Isabel hold hands, and she kisses him on the cheek in one scene. The station inspector has humorous conversations with the policeman about marriage, infidelity, and a baby's parentage of a baby. The station inspector asks the policeman if he has "had relations" with his wife in the past year.
Language: Insults like "idiot," "no-good thief," "liar," and "drunk."
Consumerism: Not applicable.
Drinking, drugs, & smoking: Uncle Claude drinks out of a flask and is obviously drunk. The inspector calls him a host of synonyms for "inebriated." People are shown with wine glasses at the train station cafe.
Talk to your kids about:
Families can talk about the movie'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?
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?
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.