Mixing Tim Burton’s odd genius with the offbeat style of Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children YA novel seems like a match made in heaven. But for some unattainable reason, that doesn’t happen here. Since I am a massive Burton fan, this hurts me even more to all this. I won’t deny that the wonderfully childlike director has lost some (but definitely not all) of his brilliant cinematic touch as of late. While I haven’t loved most of his recent work, with the exception being the tearjerking Frankenweenie, I think he still has a lot of juice left in the tank. And back when I heard that he would be tackling Miss Peregrine’s, I thought his time of woes was a thing of the past. But as you can probably tell, I was sorely mistaken. Since you’ve made it this far into this, we might as well get to it.
After a family tragedy, the lonely Jake (Asa Butterfield) travels to an island in Wales with his lazy father in the hopes of finding a fantastical home that’s apparently filled with a group of peculiarly gifted children. Jake manages to find the house, but it, unfortunately, was destroyed by a bomb back in World War II. But as Jake explores the ruins, he accidentally passes through a time-travel portal that takes him back to the hours right before the fatal bomb drops. He’s pleased to see that the home of peculiars, led by the elegant Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), is now alive and well. They are also very aware of Jake’s grandfather, who was briefly a member of the household years ago. The children ask Jake to stay so that he can possibly protect them from the “bad” peculiars who are trying to kill all of them. Luckily, the bad guys are led by the always entreating Samuel L. Jackson. Since I’ve done my best to explain that just-go-with-it plot, stay with me a little while longer.
Despite the film’s concept being good on paper, there’s not much drama or conflict during the first half. We spend most of that time listening to explanatory dialogue by the peculiars, which is something that is really not needed. Because this type of story is one that you can either accept wholeheartedly or not at all, you might as well try to not fill your runtime with things that could easily dissuade cynics from caring. And that flaw shouldn’t be put entirely on Burton, but rather on the film’s clunky screenplay. Since this story wasn’t a childhood creation of Burton’s, it just doesn’t have the spunky personality that many of his passion projects are praised for.
What I really wanted, especially since I read the novel two years prior to this viewing, was to get to know all of the peculiars. Some of the most notable children include an invisible boy, a teenage girl who sets fire to anything she touches, a small girl who has a massive set of razor-sharp teeth on the back of her head, and Jake’s love interest who has to wear lead shoes so that she doesn’t float away. Those are the type of characters that should have plenty of personality, right? Well, we kind of get to know them. But what ends up happening is we only get a few brief glimpses into who they are, rather than giving us a deep look into what really makes them different from the outside world.
As those moments run few and far between, Eva Green, who might be one of the best creations in the history of Man, is thankfully able to come in and give us some of her brilliant mix of over-the-top yet magically still sincere style. And after seeing the high level that she was at, I honestly just wanted to see the movie center around her completely. But she disappears about three-quarters of the way in, leaving us just with the pretty bland Butterfield to carry us to the finish line. While I have liked Butterfield a lot in the past, particularly in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, his weak American accent that he sports in this only further diminished his ability to emote effectively. Now, I want to give a few points in this film’s defense just as any lover of Burton should.
Even though they don’t come all that often, there are some classic Burton moments sprinkled throughout this one. The design of the demonic beasts that haunt the “good” peculiars are fantastic. They slightly resemble the notorious Slender Man character, which could put some people off more than what was originally intended. But I loved their look. They have these creepily elongated limbs that help them to snatch their victims up so that they can properly feast on them with a set of tentacles that protrude from their mouths. That type of direction is what Burton’s recent films have really been lacking. And although it is nice to see those creations in Miss Peregrine’s, they don’t come around enough to truly stick with you.
Despite the film running out of steam a little by the end, there is an absolutely amazing battle sequence that should have every person in the theater raving like lunatics. The battle has skeletons and the Slender Man creatures fighting each other in the middle of a bustling carnival. At first, I was thinking that it seemed a little too silly to be effective. Then, I realized how stupid that sounded and just went with it. You know why? Because that type of direction isn’t childish—it’s Burton. That’s good enough for me. On the other hand, it is too bad that fight didn’t last longer or that there were similar sequences earlier on in the film, but it’s still pretty sweet.
Flat out, this film should have been a lot better than what we’ve been given. However, it has a passable amount of trademark Burtonisms that will probably keep most fans entertained. My main worry is that those who are unaccustomed or unaffected by Burton’s wild style will more than likely walk out of the theater with sleepy eyes. I’m not saying it’s boring, but it does occasionally lack those extra bumps to keep nonbelievers engrossed. Do your best.
Film Review: Tim Burton’s ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’
Reviewed on Sept. 22, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 127 MIN.
PRODUCTION: A 20th Century Fox release and presentation, in association with TSG Entertainment, of a Chernin Entertainment. Producers: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping. Executive producers: Derek Frey, Katterli Frauenfelder, Nigel Gostelow, Ivana Lombardi.
CREW: Director: Tim Burton. Screenplay: Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Ransom Riggs. Camera (color): Bruno Delbonnel. Editor: Chris Lebenzon.
WITH: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson, Kim Dickens, O-Lan Jones, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Georgia Pemberton, Milo Parker, Pixie Davies, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Cameron King, Raffiella Chapman.