Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children should provide moviegoers with an entertaining and emotional ride as well as nightmarish visuals to savor.
Since the time Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) was a toddler, he was dazzled by his grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp) and tall-tales of growing up during World War II – as well as the magical children’s home where Abraham took refuge for much of his adolescence: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Now sixteen years old, Jake begins to question whether his grandfather’s stories, in which Abraham told of friends with supernatural abilities and recounted battles with evil monsters, were true – or simply elaborations that Jake’s grandfather made-up to avoid the harsh realities of war with Nazi Germany.
However, when Jake witnesses his grandfather die at the hand of a spindly creature that no one else can see, he becomes obsessed with investigating whether his grandfather was crazy and, as a result, whether Jake himself might be losing his own mind. To get answers, Jake travels from his home in Florida to Wales in the hope of finding Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green) and, assuming she actually exists, her sanctuary for peculiar children as well.
Based on the book series of the same name, from author Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a return to form for fan-favorite director Tim Burton. The novel source material offers a solid mix of emotional drama and quirky horror concepts that are a perfect fit for Burton’s sensibilities – providing an intriguing stage on which to build a memorable and thoughtful movie experience. It isn’t Burton’s most ambitious or rousing work to date but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a step up from the comparatively safe adaptations (and Johnny Depp collaborations) the filmmaker produced over the last decade. At face value, the movie is a competent imagining of Riggs’ best-selling novel: a unique twist on the recent slew of “chosen one” young adult novel adaptations, Burton enhances Jake’s world of “peculiars” with striking visuals, nuanced character moments, and charming performances from his cast.
The core narrative of Riggs’ novel and the resulting film covers a lot of the same story beats as other popular YA properties – especially those with supernatural backdrops, such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Though, even when viewers may be able to anticipate where the story is headed, there are enough new pieces to keep the experience fresh – pieces that are made all the more interesting thanks to Burton’s lavish vision of the Home for Peculiar Children and its inhabitants. The director navigates a challenging balance between honoring the current story while also establishing a world that can be explored further in sequels and, while Jake drives the narrative forward, it is Miss Peregrine and her charges that supply the film with its most entertaining moments.
Considering all of the franchise-setup that Burton includes, Jake isn’t quite as developed as the larger story implies but Asa Butterfield establishes a likable window through which the audience can learn about Miss Peregrine and the peculiars. Unsurprisingly, Eva Green is a scene-stealer as Miss Peregrine – even if the actress is channeling similar roles from her recent filmography (including Penny Dreadful and her previous collaboration with Burton as Angelique Bouchard in Dark Shadows). Still, even if the role isn’t a significant stretch for Green, it’s fun to watch the talented actress put a Burton-esque twist on classic headmistress characters, such as Mary Poppins.
For many, Ella Purnell will be the highlight of the film as Emma Bloom – a teenage girl who defies gravity (and must wear metal shoes in order to prevent floating away). Bloom is the heart of the film and Purnell, who is mainly recognizable for appearances as young versions of Angelina Jolie (in Maleficent), Margot Robbie (in The Legend of Tarzan), and Keira Knightly (in Never Let Me Go), delivers a breakout performance. Bloom’s gravity-defying peculiarity is a perfect match for Burton’s lush visual aesthetics and with Purnell’s ability to convey a character struggling to maintain cheerful optimism in the face of crushing isolation, the filmmaker and actress give life to a character that recalls Burton’s long history of powerful storytelling.
The film’s villain, Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), is also representative of Burton’s better work – a bizarre but captivating mix of Jackson’s trademark sizzle blurred with creepy prosthetics and a zany backstory. Jackson chews the scenery and makes for a haunting sight – even if his character is, ultimately, relegated to a monologuing evildoer. Similarly, the supporting cast of peculiars is comprised of characters who are primarily defined by their abilities rather than particularly impactful interactions with Jake, Emma, Miss Peregrine, or Barron. Certain peculiars are more interesting, both visually and in concept, than others; though, none are quite as well-realized as Emma’s aerokinesis. Nevertheless, they serve the story at-hand and, in addition to fleshing out Peregrine’s home and the larger world of peculiars, each of the side characters gets their own hero moments before the credits role – including several that contribute equal parts humor and horror-fantasy.
As with much of Burton’s filmography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a twisted fairytale that uses coming-of-age protagonists to explore the challenges of self-discovery, grief, and growing up. Parents who are considering taking their kids to the movie will likely find the film includes a lot of creepy moments that might be too much for the juice box crowd to handle – a caveat that is made all the more notable when paired with a 127 minute runtime. For teens and adult filmgoers, the length of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children won’t be an issue, since Burton peppers in a steady flow of memorable interactions; yet, horror-light subject matter is reason for parents to take that PG-13 rating seriously and determine whether their kids (who might have liked Burton’s Alice in Wonderland or been enticed by the colorful Miss Peregrine trailers) will actually enjoy the film. Likewise, a 3D ticket isn’t a necessity but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a beautiful film with visual snap and several set-piece moments that will be enhanced by premium formats.
It’s too early to tell whether this adaption of Ransom Riggs’ debut novel is an indicator that Burton is rediscovering his creative sweet spot but the movie is, nonetheless, an encouraging step in the right direction – one that plays to the filmmaker’s strengths and rewards longtime fans who have been craving a vintage Burton experience. Ultimately, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children should provide moviegoers with an entertaining and emotional ride as well as nightmarish visuals to savor.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children runs 127 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
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