It’s Paris in the late 1920s and young Hugo Cabret lives in the hidden passageways of a Paris train station whose clocks he maintains. That’s supposed to be his uncle’s job, but when Hugo was orphaned, his father’s brother saw a win-win situation: He’d give Hugo a place to stay and they’d divide the work, Hugo taking care of the clocks while he took care of the drinking. But now the uncle has disappeared, leaving Hugo to fend for himself and hide from the station inspector, who delights in capturing orphans and sending them to the orphanage.
Hugo dedicates his spare time to his only remaining link to his father, a mysterious broken clockwork humanoid automaton his father had been trying to repair when he died. Finally Hugo manages to get the device into working order, but he finds he can’t make it go without a missing heart-shaped key.
Hugo has no friends until he meets a girl whose eccentric stepfather runs a toy shop in the station and who miraculously proves to have that missing key. When they set the automaton in motion it does something very curious that deepens the mystery.
It’s not quite as good as I had hoped (for one thing, it simply drops an important plot thread, which I found pretty disappointing), but it a fairly enjoyable film with a lot of interesting characters and surprises, including some superbly restored excerpts from films by the brilliant pioneer moviemaker Georges Méliès.