In the past, films like EDWARD SCISSORHANDS proved that visionary director Tim Burton could effectively capture an audience’s heart and imagination with tales of fantasy and wonder, generally involving an outsider who is very different from what most would consider normal. MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME OF PECULIAR CHILDREN seems a perfect fit for this mold as it is filled with many of these kinds of characters and although the film begins to fall apart in its final act, there is enough interesting things going on for it to keep audiences fully invested throughout most of its two hours and seven-minute runtime. Continue reading for our full MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN review.
The moral of the story is very familiar, especially at a time when the X-Men franchise has found so much popularity. It wants us to learn to embrace the things that make us as individuals so different from everyone else. Adapted from the novel by Ransom Riggs, the tale centers around Jake, a teenage boy who can’t seem to get close to his very neglectful parents and instead finds a friend in his grandfather who relishes in telling fantastical stories about a group of peculiar kids. After Grandpa is mysteriously murdered, Jake begins to suspect that there might be some truth to these bedtime stories and he travels to Wales where the Peculiar Children supposedly live under the guidance of Miss Peregrine. Upon arriving, Jake learns that Miss Peregrine and the children are actually stuck in a time loop, never growing old while having to repeat the same day from World War II over and over again. This time loop is a protection of sorts against the white haired Barron and his army of monsters who are invisible to everyone.
The real strength behind the film’s success is the cast of Peculiar Children themselves. They fit perfectly into the kind of world that Burton loves to present to his audiences – strange outsiders that we are meant to love and understand. They’re characters that we can relate to, because discovering their peculiarities can actually teach us something about ourselves. There’s Emma (Ella Purnell), the love interest who has to wear lead shoes to keep from flying away, while Olive (Lauren McCrostie) has to wear gloves so she doesn’t accidentally light things on fire. There’s Claire (Raffiella Chapman) who has a ravenous set of teeth hidden on the back of her neck, an invisible boy, Millard (Cameron King) who is a playful trickster and Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) who can make things grow almost instantly. Of course, we can’t forget the masked twins who are just incredibly creepy to look at. My favorite Peculiar though and the one with the most interesting story/character arc is Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), a youngster who can temporarily give life to inanimate objects. Burton and screenwriter Jane Goldman treat these characters with real care. All of them are written as real people who just happen to have these abilities, but also have real feelings that we all can relate to. None of them seem to be ashamed of their peculiarities either. This mixed with the fact that all of the young performers do a really great job bringing their counterparts to life with some real heart, makes it really easy to care about them without any pity towards their situation of being… well, peculiar.
Samuel Jackson gives an interesting performance as the villain. He plays it a little too over the top, but still seems to make it work. Usually a performance like this can come off as a little too much, but Jackson, as usual, seems to be having so much fun playing the part that it becomes rather infectious instead. But, it’s Eva Green who really shines with her performance as Miss Peregrine. She is a perfect fit for the role, playing Peregrine with a very serious demeanor, which is needed to show that the character is aware of how important her job to protect these children is.
Of course, the film makes sure to give us a seemingly regular kid in the main character, Jake, who is there for the audience to relate to. Unfortunately, he is the most uninteresting character in the film. Played by Asa Butterfield (HUGO), the characters main function seems to be playing the straight man to all the fantastic elements that inhabit the world that surrounds him. Butterfield tries his best to instill a little awkwardness into the role, especially when it comes to his relationship with Emma, but it never really seems to fit. Because the characters that surround him are so much more interesting, this makes Jake seem pale in comparison.
There is also the issue of how the whole final act feels a little too uninspired and predictable. Going from some pretty interesting set-ups with the characters and some wonderfully inspired moments, like when we get to witness time resetting itself to restart the time loop, made me expect something a little stranger and original in the climactic moments. Instead the film takes a turn towards the kind of ordinary action set piece that we’re use to seeing in movies today. With its lack of imagination, it feels like something that Burton had forced upon him by studio executives, as the whole ending seems to have no real interest in staying true to the imagination shown in the first two thirds of the film. Also, some of the logic regarding the time loops and the characters actual placement in the time continuum gets a little confusing towards the film’s end and I’m still not sure I fully understand it.
On the positive side though, as with all of Burton’s films, the technical aspects are inspired. His sense of visual style has always been the high point of almost everything he’s made. Though the film has more than its share of CGI, the director seems to feel perfectly comfortable creating with the computer technology, while also not being afraid to remember his past by allowing us at least one scene of stop-motion animation that is rather simple, but also amazing to watch. The scenes that take place underwater with Jake and Emma, although computer generated, are also especially spectacular in every way. The production design by Gavin Bocquet (STARDUST) is stunning and the images created by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (BIG EYES) really stand out, also adding to the visual experience that the film offers.
All in all, for a film that has its fair share of problems, it remains a worthwhile time at the movies. Slow moving at times, with an uninspired ending, the film still never fails to entertain. Visually stunning with its fair share of interesting characters, Burton gives us a tale very reminiscent of some of his most beloved films. His knack for getting us to care about those who are different from most is a good fit for a film like MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, making it easy to see past the flaws and enjoy all the things that really work.