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Hugo (2011) - Movie Review for Parents

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Hugo Blu-ray
Photo © Paramount Home Entertainment

Bottom line: Hugo, based on the famous historical fiction by Brian Selznick, presents an intriguing mystery that is family friendly, intriguing, and even educational. Some moments of peril may frighten young children, and the movie contains some heavy thematic elements including the sad fact that both of the young main characters' parents are dead.

MPAA Rating: PG, for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking
Guide age recommendation: 7+
Genre: Adventure/Family/Myster
Runtime: 127 minutes
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley
Release Date: November 23, 2011

Hugo - Overview

Set in 1930s Paris, Hugo tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield). After the tragic death of his father, Hugo was forced to live with his uncle, an alcoholic who worked as the timekeeper for the large and bustling Paris train station. Living with his uncle in a sort of apartment within the walls of the station, Hugo became an apprentice to his uncle and learned the inner workings of the station and how to fix and wind all of the clocks. When Hugo's uncle disappears, Hugo takes over his uncle's job and keeps all the clocks in tip top shape. Hugo has to fend for himself, and he is careful to remain undiscovered in his secret life, because if he is found out, he will be taken straight to the orphanage.

Hugo's greatest fear is that if he is taken to the orphanage, he will not be able to continue his father's work on a mysterious automaton his father had found in a museum. The automaton is a man sitting at a desk, and Hugo and his father worked on the machine together, wondering what the mechanical man would write once he was fixed and wound up. The automaton is the only thing Hugo has left of his father, and he is just sure that once he fixes it, the automaton will write a message from his father meant just for him.

In order to fix the automaton, Hugo steals parts and toys from a nearby toy booth. One fateful day, the toy booth owner Georges (Ben Kingsley) catches Hugo and takes the one thing that Hugo needs to fix the automaton -- his father's precious notebook. As Hugo tries to get the notebook back, he secretly becomes friends with Georges' goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), a book worm who is excited to have a real adventure for once. Together, the two friends work to solve the mystery of the automaton and uncover the secrets that will bring the past to light and brighten the future for all of them.

HugoPhoto © Paramount Pictures

Hugo - Guide Review for Parents

Rich in cinematic beauty, historical significance and thought-provoking themes, Hugo presents a visual and intellectual masterpiece for kids about ages seven and up and families. Based on the unique novel by Brian Selznick, the movie had a strong foundation to work with. The novel uses both words and stunning, mysterious looking sketches to tell the intriguing story of young Hugo Cabret. Many school children read the book in 3rd grade, and the story has the power to captivate kids and immerse them in the world of 1930s Paris, where the emerging genre of film is exciting and new. Like the book, the movie will capture the attention of adults as well as kids, and it features information about and footage from early films that shaped the industry.

Kids will love the story about the first movie, one that caused audiences to scream when they thought a moving train in the film was coming right for them. The movie contains a few such historical gems interwoven into the fictional story revolving around the real early filmmaker Georges Melies.

In addition to the rich historical relevance, the movie conveys some thought-provoking themes. Hugo, a natural talent at fixing things, sees the world as one big machine in which all the parts are useful in some way. Hugo and Isabelle wonder at what their purpose in life is and how they fit in to large and complex machine that is the world around them.

For all the detailed storytelling, the movie does have a couple of slow sections and young children may become bored. Some perilous parts, especially those involving the station manager who relentlessly pursues young orphans to send them off to the orphanage, may disturb or frighten young children. The very idea of orphans and dead parents could be very disturbing to some young children. Parents should also know that the movie depicts people smoking and/or drinking in several scenes. For a more detailed account of content, please see the overview below.

Hugo - Content Overview

*May contain spoilers.

  • Violence (Medium): The train station manager patrols the station with his doberman looking for criminals and such, but mostly for kids who could be orphans so he can lock them in his office and then send them to the orphanage. We see him take one little boy, who cries in the cell until his is roughly thrown into a truck headed for the orphanage. The station manager gets Hugo as well, but he escapes. In a dream, Hugo gets caught on the train tracks as a speeding train approaches. The train misses Hugo and crashes out the station windows. In real life, Hugo does get caught on the tracks but is rescued at the last minute. Most other violence involves people being toppled and pushed around as chases scenes happen in the crowded station.
  • Scary Scenes (Medium): Some children may be frightened by the doberman dog that chases Hugo, by the station manager or other scenes in which Hugo gets caught by adults or is running to escape getting caught. Also, a scene depicting the fire that killed Hugo's father could be frightening to kids. Hugo's nightmare about getting caught on the train tracks and turning into an automaton could be frightening to young kids.
  • Sex/Nudity (Low): A man and a woman flirt back and forth. Two man banter back and forth about one man's wife and if the child she is carrying is her husband's or not.
  • Drugs and Alcohol (High) In keeping with the 1930s setting of the story, various people around the station are shown drinking, holding drinks and smoking. Hugo's uncle is a drunkard and is always drinking from a flask.
  • Profanity (None)
  • Disrespectful/Imitative Behavior (Extreme): Being an orphan, Hugo must steel food to eat. He also steals toys and parts from the toy booth. Hugo and Isabelle sneak into a movie without paying. Hugo is a master lock picker. Georges is bitter about the past and can be mean at times. Hugo and Isabelle lie to the station manager. Georges, bitter about life, burns many of his things in a fit of rage (seen in a flashback).

  • Sad/Unsettling Scenes (High): In a flashback, we see Hugo's father who opens a door to see flames engulfing the building he is in. We learn that Hugo's father died in the fire. We also learn that his mother had died before that, and that both of Isabelle's parents died when she was younger. Papa Georges is sad and bitter about the past, and he takes some of that out on Isabelle and Hugo.
  • Movie Topics Kids Might Have Questions About: early films and the film industry, orphans, stealing to survive, purpose in life, godparents, clocks and machinery, wars and wounded war vets

Hugo - Blu-ray

Hugo is available on DVD and Blu-ray combo packs in 2D or 3D versions. 3D is a big part of the artistry of the movie, so if you've got the technology, I recommend this title in 3D. If not, don't worry, the movie looks fabulous in high-def and is just as captivating on the small screen as it is on the big screen. The key element in this movie is the storytelling.

The bonus features are decent. Viewers can learn interesting facts about the historical aspects of the movie and the real Georges Méliès. A feature that shows the making of the scene involving a train crashing out of the building is also fascinating both in the historical sense and in the filmmaking sense.

The bonus features do not include any sort of director's cut or audio commentary, which is unfortunate, but the film itself makes the purchase of the title worth the money over just streaming it for rental.

Bonus features (Blu-ray):
  • Feature film in high definition
  • Shoot the Moon (The Making of Hugo)
  • The Cinemagician, Georges Méliès
  • The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo
  • Big Effects, Small Scale
  • Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime
Disclosure: The studio provided a free screening of this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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