We All Go to ‘Hugo’

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It was a Thanksgiving full of abundance for the Crabtree family.  With both sides of the family living locally, holidays tend to become days-long affairs.  This year it meant two back-to-back Thanksgiving celebrations – the first Turkey dinner coming at mid-day with the in-laws, and Gobblefest 2.0 occurring Friday at dinnertime with my family.

Sandwiched in between these two meals however, we found time to join our good friends and take the kids to a movie.  You might wonder why I’m telling you all this in a column devoted to books, and the reason is that the movie we chose, “Hugo”, is actually based on the illustrated novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, by Brian Selznick.

The story, set in 1931 Paris, revolves around Hugo Cabret, a young orphan who minds the clocks in a Paris train station, and Georges Méliès, a real-life French filmmaker from that era.

I absolutely fell in love with this story!  It has a lot of sadness, true, but it also shows how sometimes in saving others, we rescue ourselves as well.  It showed a boy who refused to give up on his dream, who believed in something bigger than himself, and staked his very survival on it.  How can you not love that?

I must confess, that I broke my own rule.  I committed the cardinal sin of seeing the movie without having first read the book.  It just sort of happened that way, but I’m glad it did.  After having so loved the movie, I went right out – during the midnight Black Friday madness, no less – and got a copy of the book, which the boys and I began reading together the next morning.

Any book that will bring busy 7- and 10-year old boys to their mother’s side to read is already a winner, if you ask me.  This book, however, has a unique style that kept them there, engrossed.  The book is a 500-plus-page novel, but more than half of the pages are filled with sketch-style black and white drawings, and later in the book, actual still images from some of Melies’ films.

I am always impressed when an author can take true life and meld it with the figments of their imagination so well that it is impossible to tell where the two meet and depart. Selznick seamlessly weaves fictional fantasy with real history, and in fact, Méliès as played in the movie by Ben Kingsley looked just like the illustration of him in the book, which in turn looked startlingly like the photos of Méliès I found online.  And, the story itself was so well told, that I was a little surprised to find that so much of it was true!

I don’t want to share too much of the plot with you, I knew nothing of the story, and I think that helped contribute to making the movie, and subsequently the book, so magical for me.

I will simply say that the movie was a great piece of cinema that I felt good about taking my boys to.  There was no gratuitous violence or bathroom humor to be found.  Just a great story that left us in a feel-good kind of mood, but without the overdone happy ending family films often have.

It left me with damp eyes and a full heart, but even better, it led me to a great book, and a lap full of listening ears.

For more about Brian Selznick, and his new illustrated novel, “Wonderstruck,” please visit: www.theinventionofhugocabret.com/about_brian_bio.htm

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