Martin Scorsese's glowing 1930s-set fantasy follows young orphan Hugo (Asa Butterfield) as he investigates the rich cinematic past of a reclusive toymaker. Living among the clockwork behind the walls of a stupendous Parisian station, the youngster painstakingly renovates a rusting automaton that provides a link with his late, lamented father... and Kingsley's hero of silent cinema. Sacha Baron Cohen supplies the laughs as a pompous chef de gare while Chloë Grace Moretz is the young girl who joins Hugo on his secret quest. Ravishing CGI and an unalloyed human warmth make this a must-see. James Cameron called it a masterpiece... and who are we to differ?
Sacha Baron Cohen
Chloë Grace Moretz
Martin Scorsese heads to the birthplace of cinema for this sumptuous billet doux to the medium which has provided him with more than a half century of acclaim.
The veteran director - whose first film was the 1959 short Vesuvius VI - makes full use of the range of technological advances available to him while never losing sight of the key elements of what makes a good movie tick.
The setting is a gothic Paris rail terminus, a stupendous CGI creation - more the soaring spires of St Pancras than the grim concrete of Euston - that sees all human life ebbing and flowing along its platforms, its brasserie and waiting rooms.
It's also home to Hugo (Butterfield), an orphan who has been taken under the wing of his sottishly unpleasant uncle (Winstone) after his father (Law), a master clockmaker, died in a museum fire.
Dossing down behind the station walls, he suddenly finds himself alone after his uncle - who instructed him in the delicate science of keeping all the stations clocks ticking - goes missing.
Things take a turn for the worse when a notebook containing diagrams sketched by his father is taken by toyseller Papa Georges (Kingsley), a white-haired curmudgeon...but - as it turns out - a man of mystery.
For Papa Georges is none other than Georges Méliès, the celebrated Gallic cinema innovator who went bankrupt and ended his days as a toy seller at Paris's Montparnasse station.
Scorsese has taken this sliver of a true story and fashioned a golden-hued family fantasy around it, a rich narrative that sees Hugo reforging a link to his beloved father via a clockwork man - or automaton - that Papa Georges constructed...and Hugo's father rebuilt.
Adding to the lustre are Baron Cohen's turn as a jobsworth station inspector, himself an orphan, and his tentative romance with Emily Mortimer's flower girl and Grace Moretz as a Georges' goddaughter and Hugo's ally in his search for the truth.
The plot is probably a little too complicated for young audiences and the overlong running time saps purpose from the meandering timeline.
Nevertheless, it's a masterpiece of visual storytelling and a heartfelt homage to the industry that Scorsese has triumphantly made his own.