The Invention of Hugo Cabret

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008
by Brian Selznick

I found this Caldecott Award winning illustrated children's novel to be delightful. The book is over 500 pages and heavy as a brick, but it's quality weight! Contained within its pages are orphans and automatons, magicians and mechanics, secrets and dreams -- also cinematic mysteries, a hungry boy, a curious girl and a cranky old man. A library! Monsieur, Madame, Méliès, the moon. (AUTOMATONS!)

The story is set in 1931 Paris; a city typed up and drawn out, replete with rooftops, clockworks, museums, attics, train stations, transitions, small mechanical parts and moments of truth. Flames, fire, films. The long arm of the law. Eyepatch! excitement, escape. Pickpocket lockpickers. Mouse, motivation, well meaning meddling minors.

Selznick combines text and drawings with a few photographs here and there. The drawings don't so much illustrate text as operate as legitimate storytelling all on their own. Like a song in a well done musical, the drawings are trusted to move the story forward without merely rehashing what's been already said. I think this is especially effective with the action scenes. (in fact, I think there could have been a little less text, but I'm significantly older than the target audience, so maybe I'm just old and crazy.) There's a real cinematic quality of motion in the drawings -- lots of detail to get lost in if you chose to take your time or go back and look, but compelling action right up front to keep those pages turning. There's a fictional story here -- some mystery, adventure and bravery in the face of adversity -- but also a lot of historical information on some of the very earliest films ever made. (and a nice "credits" section in the back with places for further research and information.) I don't doubt that this book has inspired the imagination of many children (and adults!) -- is there anything better? In this age of YouTube it's especially easy to search out related footage.

Here are a couple that I found:

Méliès famous "Voyage to the Moon" -- this version has a soundtrack that includes narration (which I found helpful) -- some of them don't, some of them have other music (Kraftwerk?!) or other narration. There are a bazillion versions on youtube, as well as many other very charming Méliès short films.

Part one (getting ready to go to the moon):

Part two (actually getting to the moon and meeting those who live there):

and here's a FANTASTIC Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris Méliès homage -- it's a video for the Smashing Pumpkins' song Tonight, Tonight. (I especially like it because there is a Victorian lady adventurer who thwaps things with her parasol.)

3 comments on "The Invention of Hugo Cabret"
  1. I love parasol thwapping so much and I mean love.

  2. ME TOO!!! I kind of want to get one just for that purpose. You know, in case I end up on the moon and have to fight off strange little jumping creatures.

  3. You probably encounter that every single day, minus the moon travel.


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