In 1931 Paris, 12-year-old Hugo Cabret lives with his widowed, clockmaker father, who works at a museum. Hugo's father finds a broken automaton – a mechanical man created to write with a pen. He and Hugo try to repair it, documenting their work in a notebook. When his father dies in a fire, Hugo goes to live with his alcoholic uncle Claude, who maintains the clocks at Gare Montparnasse railway station. When Claude goes missing, Hugo continues maintaining the clock, fearing that Station Inspector Gustave Dasté will send him away if Claude's absence is discovered. Hugo attempts to repair the automaton with stolen parts, believing it contains a message from his father, but the machine requires a heart-shaped key.