The story, told in flashback, begins in Paris in 1931. Hugo Cabret is a young orphan living in a small apartment with his uncle above a train station. Hugo's father, a clock maker, had found a broken automaton, a windup figure, in a museum attic and had taken it home to try to fix. He was killed in a fire before he accomplished this task. Now Hugo has taken over the goal of getting this mechanical man to work once more. In his quest to find the right parts, he makes friends and also enemies, but his perseverance pays off in the end. The text is interspersed with detailed pencil drawings that help the story really come to life.