Leave it to Martin Scorsese to finally come up with a way to make 3D worthwhile. His latest, Hugo, is a vibrant, captivating ode to the dawn of cinema, something very near and dear to his heart.

His other passion also figures prominently; Hugo is his first film in 18 years to carry a PG rating. Scorsese picked the film so his 12-year old daughter Francesca could finally enjoy one of daddy’s flicks.

We all owe Francesca a debt of gratitude– Hugo is such a stunning and mesmerizing film that it immediately shoots to the top of the list of Scorsese’s best. (Yes, I know this is the man who gave us Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Departed.)

Based on the Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik, Hugo tells the tale of an orphan (Asa Butterfield) who lives inside the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930s. After the death of his clockmaker father (Jude Law), Hugo is taken in by his drunk uncle (Ray Winstone), the man responsible for keeping the clocks wound at the station. When Hugo’s uncle doesn’t come home one night, the boy takes over the job.

Hugo also spends his free time working on an automaton his late father had rescued from an abandoned museum. The mechanical man, though, is missing key parts, so Hugo steals some from toys sold by a mysterious old man (Ben Kingsley) at one of the station’s kiosks.

Eventually Hugo meets young Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), who he learns is the goddaughter of the toyseller, Papa Georges. When Georges catches Hugo stealing from his shop, he discovers the boy’s notebook, which was handed down from his father and is full of schematics on how to fix the automaton. But Georges seems inordinately disturbed by the book. Hmmmm.

Beginning with the opening dolly shot that sweeps from the Paris skyline into the station, Scorsese crafts a fantastical and mystical film that proves his movie-making prowess hasn’t waned at all– in fact it may even be getting better. He takes us into the labyrinthic bowels of Hugo’s world; and then, with the most natural of segues, he guides us through the world of the first silent movies.

Hugo is one of the few times that a movie has superseded the book it’s based on. As wondrous and imaginative as Selznick’s book was, his charcoal drawings pale considerably with the eye-popping visuals Scorsese (via cinematographer Robert Richardson) gives us. And the director’s ability to include clips from the silent films, so integral to the plot, elevates the experience that much more.

Screenwriter John Logan (The Aviator, Rango) took some liberties with Selznick’s book; some characters are missing (the eyepatched Etienne) and some are new (Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths as a cute old couple), but by and large, the story is the same. And the story is told so simply that Hugo is instantly accessible to almost all ages. (Some of the more serious subject matter, including the death of Hugo’s father, might push the acceptable age up to, say, 8 or 10.)

Butterfield is a true find, playing Hugo with heartbreaking brilliance, and Moretz, Kingsley, and the hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen (as the pesky Station Inspector) all combine with Scorsese’s genius to make Hugo one of the best family films of the year– destined to become near and dear to your heart, too.

5/5 stars