Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a lonely, young, orphaned boy who lives a secret life in the hidden passageways and giant clocks of a Paris train station in the 1930s. Hugo spends his time maintaining the station clocks, scavenging food from shop vendors, avoiding the mean-spirited station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and stealing mechanical toys from shopkeeper Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley). Hugo has been using the clockwork parts from stolen toys to fix a mechanical man that his late father rescued from a museum. Hugo believes that if he can repair the automaton, it’ll reveal a message from his father.
When Hugo tries to steal a clockwork mouse from Georges’ toyshop, Georges catches him and forces him to hand over a notebook containing detailed sketches of clockwork me
chanisms. Very upset by the loss of his notebook, Hugo follows Georges home. He makes friends with Georges’ young goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). She promises that she won’t let ‘Papa’ Georges burn the notebook.
The mystery thickens when a heart-shaped key given to Isabelle by her godmother activates the automaton. It begins to draw images that lead Hugo and Isabelle on a series of adventures.
Here we outline any topics, issues and ideas in this movie that might upset children and adolescents, so that you can gauge whether it is appropriate for your child. For example, children and adolescents may react adversely to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, separation from a parent, animal cruelty or distress, children as victims, natural disasters and racism.
Death of a parent; orphans and orphanages; magic
Here we identify any violence in this movie, and explain how and why it might impact on your child or adolescent. In general, movie violence can make children less sensitive to the use of violence in real life. Alternatively, they may become fearful about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world. In some contexts, it can also teach them to see violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.
This movie contains some slapstick violence, shown in images from silent movies. It also shows dangerous situations involving adults and children, some low-level violence, verbal threats and children being intimidated by adults. For example:
The station inspector and his Doberman guard dog chase Hugo through the train station. Hugo leaps and tips over a dinner table, scaring people sitting at the table, while the inspector runs into a group of musicians and destroys a double bass. The inspector roughly pushes people out of the way as he tries to catch Hugo. Towards the end of the chase, the inspector’s leg brace gets tangled in the door of a departing train and he’s dragged along.
There’s a quick image of Hugo’s father opening a door and a firestorm rushing up a hall to engulf him (we don’t see him actually burned).
The inspector catches a crying and distressed young boy and shoves him into a small wire cage in his office. The inspector phones the police, telling them to pick up the boy and take him to an orphanage.
While trying to escape the pursuit of the station inspector, Hugo climbs out of a tall clock tower to dangle from the clock’s massive hands, almost falling as the hand moves.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight years. For example:
One scene shows a quick image of the dead, waterlogged body of Hugo’s uncle next to a river. Later we hear that the body had been at the bottom of the river for several months before being discovered.
Hugo tries to escape the station inspector and jumps onto a train track to get his fallen automaton. A train hurtles towards Hugo, the train’s whistle blows, and sparks fly from the wheels as the driver applies the brakes. Hugo is pulled to safety just in time.
In a dream scene, Hugo stands on a train track with a train speeding towards him. The driver slams on the train’s brakes and sparks fly from the wheels. Hugo disappears under the train (we don’t see him actually hit by the train) as the train crashes through a barricade at the end of the track. The trains destroys things as it rushes through a crowded station. People dive to avoid being run down by the train before it crashes out of the station’s second-storey window and onto the pavement below. In his dream, Hugo then transforms into an automaton. He wakes from the dream very upset, drenched in sweat.
Papa Georges has an emotional breakdown, crying and very upset.
Isabelle falls down in a crowded station. She’s nearly trampled by a crowd of people as she calls out for Hugo’s help.
One brief scene features a painting of a dead soldier wearing a gas mask lying on his back. The painting has a grotesque and disturbing quality.
Children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.
Nothing of concern
This movie has a couple of low-level sexual references. For example, the station inspector talks to a policeman on the phone about his wife leaving him. He wonders whether he’s the father of her unborn child.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie shows some use of substances. For example:
Hugo’s uncle repeatedly drinks from a hip flask and acts in a drunk way, staggering and bumping into things. On several occasions, characters talk about him as a ‘drunk’.
Hugo’s uncle holds a cigarette between his lips and sits in a chair with an ashtray full of cigarette butts.
In a couple of scenes, cigarette smoke billows from a restaurant.
Nudity and sexual activity
This movie doesn’t have any nudity, but it does show some low-level flirting. For example:
In several scenes, an older man flirts with an older woman, but the flirtation always turns comical when the woman’s dog tries to bite the man. To solve his problem, the man buys a dog of his own and the two dogs show interest in each other.
Isabelle kisses Hugo on the cheek, and they hold hands in several scenes.
None of concern
This movie doesn’t have any coarse language, but does have several examples of name-calling.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Hugo is a fantasy action adventure with a great cast. It’s suited to an audience ranging from younger teenagers to adults. The movie includes mature themes and a sophisticated storyline (the second half of the movie relates to the silent movie industry) that are unsuited to children under 10 years. The movie’s running time of 126 minutes is also too long for younger viewers.
The main message from this movie is that we all have a part to play in life, like cogs in a clockwork mechanism. This gives our life meaning. Hugo believes that people who don’t have a purpose in life are like broken cogs. You could talk with your children about how important it is to find a purpose in life.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include perseverance and selflessness. For example, Hugo refuses to give up regardless of the dangers he faces. Through his perseverance, he can discover truth and help other people.