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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Hugo Cabret, from page to screen

November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving has come and gone but the fond memories of family, friends, food — and a new movie — linger. Even though the holiday was celebrated at our home, we had time to see a movie that I've been anxious to see.

It's called Hugo, based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Scholastic). The novel unfolds in a series of words and images which use the conventions of cinema, specifically the drama of old black & white silent films.

Many were surprised (shocked may be a better description) when Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott Medal. This prestigious award is for a picture book, one that provides readers with a visual experience. The book certainly does that; readers pan in and pan out, view panoramas, see Paris from unique perspectives, and share Hugo's emotions and discovery. Much of this is conveyed through a series of black and white drawings that are interspersed with text. (Together they create a visual experience of over 500 pages.)

The film adaptation uses similar cinematic conventions — similar but different, of course, and in color. (I was surpised that Hugo was directed by Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker who is better known for different types of films, like Raging Bull). It's also in 3-D — which has always seemed to me a major gimmick. Well, I had to adjust my bias when I saw the use of it here; it was done beautifully and added to the film's fantasy.

Like the book, the film pays homage to old films and moviemakers, especially the filmmaker Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley, the actor playing Méliès in the movie bears a strong resemblance). Also like the book, the film is really for children 9 and older — and their families, of course.

The film is fine adaptation of a memorable book. It is true to the book while doing what film does best. Both provide insight and inspire awe, each in their unique way.

[You can watch our interview with Brian Selznick, where he talks about his inspiration for The Invention of Hugo Cabret.]

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"Wear the old coat and buy the new book." — Austin Phelps