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December 8, 2011

As children's movie, 'Hugo' falters

At age 69, with more than two dozen films under his directorial belt, the legendary Martin Scorsese decided to tackle a children's movie for the first time.

The result is "Hugo," a warm, lavish, visually spectacular film wrapped in inventive 3-D.

Based on Brian Selznick's best-selling youth novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," "Hugo" serves as a touching love letter to the early days of film history.

Unfortunately, "Hugo" is the kind of film that will be enjoyed more by critics and grown-up movie aficionados than it will by regular folk with children in tow. It's a triumph of technical movie-making, but as a children's movie, it falters.

"Hugo" tells the tale of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a bright-eyed young orphan living inside the massive clocks at a 1930s Paris train station.

Hugo spends his days dodging a bumbling station inspector, while also scrounging for materials to rebuild the last object left behind by his dad (Jude Law): a mysterious, metallic automaton.

Life becomes complicated when an ill-tempered toy-shop owner (Ben Kingsley) catches Hugo and commandeers the boy's treasured notebook of diagrams and instructions, but the incident also opens up opportunities.

Butterfield ("The Boy in the Striped Pajamas") has an innocence about him, but he displays a limited range of emotions as Hugo tries to find answers in his hardscrabble life. He's assisted, however, by Chloe Grace Moretz ("Kick-Ass"), who is completely charming as the old man's adopted granddaughter — and doesn't beat up, kill or suck the blood of a single person.

Sacha Baron Cohen provides comic relief as the station inspector determined to send every wayward child to the orphanage, but he fits awkwardly into the film and gives only sporadic laughs.

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