I only heard a bit about Hugo when it first came out but during movie award season (which I don't care about but can't seem to avoid hearing about on twitter) I heard a lot of buzz about the movie and it sounded like the movie was a really good one. I'd already been planning on catching it at school but tried to get too hyped for it, after all it's unusual for me to enjoy movie on the same level that I love my favorite book and anime series, what were the odds of that happening here?
Summary: Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brain Selznick, Hugo is a young boy who after the death of his father and being taken in by his uncle takes care of all the clocks in Paris' Gare Montparnasse train station. Whenever he has a moment however he is tinkering with an automaton that his father discovered in a museum and was unable to fix before his death. To find the parts for it Hugo has stolen a few toys from a toy store owned by the bitter old Papa Georges who one day catches him and takes his father's notebook in retaliation claiming it couldn't be his anyway. Hugo enlists the help of Papa Georges' young ward Isabelle to get his notebook back and in the process they discover that Papa Georges' is far more than he seems.
The Good: This is a very strongly plotted story that starts off with a small idea, Hugo trying to repair the automaton, and expands to a very grand scope by the end. The story does not rely on action or romance or over the top explosions to move the story along and distract the viewers but instead carefully paces itself and builds up parallels and metaphors along the way to make the story deeper. Part of this might be because it was based on a book, perhaps I'm biased but I often find richer writing in books than I do in screenplays, but the movie never feels like it's compressing the plot/adding in details to fill out time so it feels like a very smooth adaptation. Hugo and Isabelle come off as realistic kids, Isabelle in particular with her large vocabulary that could easily be explained by her reading and how she enjoys adventure but isn't too reckless*, although it did seem like Hugo was able to repair the automaton a little too easily for someone with his experience. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this film turned out to be a movie about making movies and even more so when I did some research later and discovered that many of the characters were real people and that all of the films they showed were real ones from the period. While it still doesn't justify some of the actions by Papa Georges his back story made him much more sympathetic and I found myself completely empathizing with what was really a tragic story.
The Bad: As I was glancing on tvtropes I was reminded of a few subplots that the movie failed to fully explain by the end (such as the fate of Hugo's notebook) and it sounds like some of those details were resolved by the book but not the movie so that would be the fault of the adaptation (and in it's defense the movie did wrap up quite a few other subplots successfully, it had a lot on it's plate by the end). There are some other small inconsistencies in the movie (if Hugo's uncle was gone who was getting paid/how was Hugo eating) but I don't see those problems bothering anyone but the most detail oriented.
The Audio: I didn't pay quite as much attention to the music as I did the visuals but the music was rather sweet and matched the film well. The music sounds a little whimsical and old-fashioned, I swear it sounds like there is a hand-cranked organ in some of the pieces, and the music helps the movie from becoming too dark overall. It doesn't attempt anything too grand or over the top and that's just fine for this movie and works wonderfully.
The Visuals: I'm a little sad that I didn't have a chance to see this movie in the 3D version since I've heard some surprisingly good things about that but I also didn't feel like I was missing out with anything in the 2D version. It
may sound odd to say this about a movie that wasn't overly arty or made
copious use of CGI and other grand effects but this movie looked really
good. The details in the props, clothing, and locations really add to the setting and manage to establish both the time and the location** without the story explicitly needing to state them. The physical setting of the movie looked gorgeous and the costumes looked like authentic clothing, like someone spent some time researching clothes and didn't raid a costume store and make all the female cast wear flapper dresses.
So in short, I adored this movie and when I was home recently and came across my family watching this film I was unable to sit down and focus at my computer and instead just watched about half of the movie again with them. This is hands down the strongest plotted movie I have seen in years and I'm going to try and read the book this summer to see how similar and different they are (it sounds like the author really liked the adaption so I'm hopeful, also when looking up a few things for this review I came across the book and facepalmed quite hard when I saw the cover since I have seen that book a dozen times yet never made the connection).
*I will admit that I was partially biased to her character from the start since I always love the bookworm characters and it's been a bit of a while since I saw one. Isabelle's balance between obviously loving stories and wanting to have adventures of her own with the carefulness she shows because she knows that her life isn't one of those stories is refreshing since so many people take shortcuts and write bookworms as characters who can't tell reality from fiction which in my experience isn't true at all.
**the location actually wasn't that hard, all you need is a shot of the Eiffel Tower and everyone knows it's Paris but I digress.