Georges Méliès was a magician who became a legendary early French filmmaker, the first to use complex special effects to tell imaginative stories that did not reflect the real world. He then lost nearly everything, including his films and his automata, due to business and financial reverses and the development of film beyond where he had taken it. This is a fictional story of Méliès in his later years, and the young boy who helps to pull him out of his decline.
Hugo Cabret is the son of a clockmaker who runs his own shop, and also works at a local museum, repairing clocks, automata, and other machinery. In the attic of the museum he finds an amazing automaton, a man sitting at desk, holding a pen, poised to write. It's in terrible shape, but he shows it to Hugo, and starts work on repairing it during his spare time at the museum.