Last year's Hugo was the first time Martin Scorsese made a family movie, but Hugo is very much the rest of his films. it's all about figuring out how a system works (even if system doesn't work).
There's a lot to recognize about Hugo even if you don't know Scorsese. It's the movie Robert Zemeckis has been trying to make with his motion-capture work for years. It's Inspector Clouseau. And as I said, it's got Scorsese written all over it, even if it looks like nothing else he's done.
Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, it's the story of an orphan who's desperately tryng to find his way in the world. It looks like it's set in 19th century England, but it's actually set in 20th century Paris (and yes, that's another of the deliberate quirks Scorsese employs to help the audience work its way into his fable).
Hugo (the orphan) is a pickpocket caught by Ben Kingsley (who was also exceptional in Scorsese's Shutter Island), an old man running a toy shop at a train station. Kingsley doesn't take kindly to the boy's activities, and confiscates a notebook filled with intricate designs. This leads to Hugo's desperate attempts to reclaim the notebook, and his meeting Kingsley's adopted daughter, Chloe Grace Moretz (a wonderful young actress discovered in of all things Kick Ass).
We learn that Hugo is mainly motivated to restore an automoton to working order, because it was something his father (played by Jude Law) helped him with before his death. Moretz has the last piece of the puzzle, a heart-shaped key, that will get the automoton working, which will get it to write, which Hugo hopes will reveal a message from his late father.
Instead it draws a depiction of the famous rocket-in-the-face image from A Trip to the Moon, one of film's early classics. We learn that Kingsley is the filmmaker Georges Melies, who abandoned his calling after the devastation of WWI, which also had an impact on the life of station agent Sacha Baron Cohen, left with a bumb leg and an obsession with order, which includes scooping up meddlesome orphans.
It's all very clockwork, the way the movie unfolds, which is a part of how it's a family movie version of a Scorsese film. As Kingsley discovers, happy endings are still possible.
Well, as I said, it was a fable. It's good that Scorsese believes in such things.