The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a highly-illustrated children's novel which tells the story of Hugo Cabret, a young orphan living in a Paris train station. Obsessed with repairing an old automaton, a kind of animatronic doll, Hugo soon becomes embroiled in a mystery about George Melies and the beginning of the movie business. Hugo's exciting adventures explore themes of history, family, and the importance of following your dreams.
The book is written in a style of splitting the story into 2 parts, as well as an epilogue called 6 Months Later . There is no actual prologue called Before Story Events like there is in this summary, but rather a flashback from the main character.
During the 1930s in Paris, a boy named Hugo Cabret and his father find an automaton in the museum that Hugo's father works in. Together they attempt to fix it due to it being mistreated, both father and son guessing that it was supposed to write a message once they were finished. One night, the museum guard forgets that Hugo's father is still in the museum, and locks him inside. A fire is mysteriously set that night, and much to Hugo's depression, his father died.
Hugo goes with his uncle to the train station, where he teaches him how to fix the clocks in the station while living in the walls of the station. One night his uncle does not return, and so Hugo concludes that he himself will be the clock-keeper. After the disappearance, he attempts to escape from the station, only to find the burnt down museum by pure chance and also finding the automaton. Hugo decides to return to the station to fix the automaton and keep the clocks going, delaying his need to go to the orphanage.
2 years later, when Hugo is stealing a toy mouse from the toy booth for his automaton, he is caught by the shopkeeper and has to give in his tools and stolen tool parts and gears. He also is forced to give his notebook, which contained drawings of the automaton made by his father while trying to fix it. Hugo then follows the man to his house, but doesn't get his notebook back. A girl who lived in the house named Isabelle comes down and assures him that she will make sure that the shopkeeper won't destroy the notebook.
The next day, Hugo returns to the toy booth where the shopkeeper tricks him into thinking that the notebook was burnt by giving him some ashes. When he encounters Isabelle again, she reveals that he didn't. Isabelle brings him to the book shop, where they meet Etienne, a friend of Isabelle. He offers to sneak both of them into the movie theatre, since the shopkeeper and his wife, whom Isabelle refers to as Papa Georges and Mama Jean, for so far unknown reasons doesn't allow Isabelle to watch the cinema. Hugo reluctantly agrees, since that meant delaying his working on the clocks.
Meanwhile, the shopkeeper decides to make Hugo work at the toy booth, saying that he just might give the notebook back if he did so. Hugo agrees, despite delaying his other duties even further. Hugo and Isabelle go to the movies like Hugo promised, but they find out that Etienne was fired from working there since the boss found out that he has been sneaking children inside, so Isabelle unlocks the door using a bobbypin. After they are kicked out of the theatre, Hugo is almost caught by the station inspector, noticing the clock delays. Isabelle then asks Hugo who he was and where he lived, which Hugo decides not to tell, in risk that she would tell someone and he would be sent to the orphanage or be arrested. He runs away from her, and while chasing him she trips and a heart-shaped key hanging from her necklace falls out. Hugo notices that he only needed the key to fit into the key-hole of the automaton to have it write its message, and comes up with a plan the next morning.
When he arrives at the book shop the next morning, finding out that Isabelle had looked into his notebook after finding it, despite promising not to, and that Papa George thought that he stole it. Hugo quickly hugs Isabelle, stealing the key on her necklace too, a technique that he learned from Etienne. Hugo returns to his room in the station walls, and a furious Isabelle tackles him. After she calms down, they place the key inside the automaton, and instead of writing a message, it draws a drawing of a rocket shooting a face in the moon.
After drawing the image, the automaton signs the name Georges Méliès at the bottom right-hand corner of the page. Isabelle notes that that was the name of Papa Georges, and gets angry again when she is convinced that Hugo stole the automaton from him. She runs to her house, wanting to ask Georges about it. Hugo follows her to her house, also wanting to know what was going on. She attempts to force him away, in the process having his hand crushed and broken when she closes the door on his hand. She suddenly notices what she has done, and lets him in. Mama Jean comes over, and they explain the situation. She is enraged when Isabelle reveals that she actually stole the key from her. While she walks away to get a bandage and more ice for Hugo, Hugo notices a drawer that seemed strangely locked. Isabelle unlocks it with her bobby pin, but accidentally drops box inside of it on her leg and breaks it, breaking her bone in the process. Georges comes and upon seeing the drawings inside of the box, becomes mentally ill and begins ripping them into pieces. Mama Jean comes over and forces her husband to go to sleep, as well as Isabelle, and tells Hugo to do the same, at their house. Instead, when everyone is asleep, he steals the key to the toy booth and returns to the train station.
The next day, he opens the toy booth with the key and he and Isabelle collect the money they got from the toy-selling, and use it to buy medicine for George. Later on, Hugo goes to the film academy library, and encounters Etienne, who now works there. Etienne offers to help Hugo, and he accepts it. Hugo finds a book called The Invention of Dreams , with the drawing of the automaton, which was a scene from the first movie his father watched, A Trip to the Moon . It says that the movie was directed by Georges Melies. Hugo reveals this to Etienne, and invites him and the author of the book, The Invention of Dreams , René Tabard, to Isabelle's house. Later on in the day, Hugo invites Isabelle to his room again, where he explains everything that was going on.
When René Tabard and Etienne arrive at the house, they are quickly asked to be sent out by Mama Jean, but allows them to stay for a bit longer when they offer to show the movie, A Trip to the Moon . Georges Méliès walks in, and takes the film with him into his room and locks the door, which Isabelle opens with her bobbypin. Georges reveals all his secrets, saying that he was sent into depression after the war and after Isabelle's parents' death, mostly because his films burned down during the war, andso he burned down most of the remains of his films and worked in a toy booth. He also reveals that he created the automaton, and that he sold it to the museum. When they tell him that it was still functional, he gets excited and asks Hugo to get it. Hugo does so, but along the way stopping while stealing milk and croissants from Monsieur Frick and Miss Emily.
He overhears the two discussing how the police found out that Hugo's uncle was found dead in the ocean, and they believed that it was the ghost of the clock-keeper keeping them going, but now they were breaking down since the ghost was angry. Hugo drops the milk bottle upon hearing that, and the two find out that it was him that was stealing their milk and croissant this entire time. They run after him, but he escapes to his room to fetch the automaton. The station inspector kicks open his door and has a long chase with Hugo, concluding with him accidentally running on to the train-tracks and almost getting crashed by a train before getting quickly pulled back from the station inspector.
After waking from his coma, Hugo is in the cell that the station inspector keeps fugitives. He reveals everything to the inspector, and Georges Méliès, Isabelle and Mama Jean adopt him. He and Méliès fix the automaton again, since he dropped it while running from the inspector.
6 months later, Hugo and his new family go to a concert where it will show Georges Melies movie scenes that still survived during World War I. Rene Tebard on stage acknowledges Hugo Cabret, Isabelle and Ettienne. In the end it is revealed that Hugo made his own automaton that wrote and drew the entire book of The Invention of Hugo Cabret .