Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016) / Fantasy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril
Running Time: 127 min.
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris O'Dowd, Terence Stamp, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Judi Dench, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett
Cameo: Tim Burton
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Jane Goldman (based on the novel by Ransom Riggs)
Review published October 1, 2016
Tim Burton (Big Eyes, Dark Shadows) adds to his already impressive filmography about strange people who do the oddest of things with a very loose adaptation of the Ransom Riggs' 2011 YA novel, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children". It would seem a natural fit for Burton's style, as it is visually imaginative and very quirky, though viewers' mileage will certainly vary as to how much of the overly familiar story will engage beyond the high-gloss aesthetic sheen provided by the technical crew.
Asa Butterfield (Ender's Game, Hugo) stars as Jacob, an American teenager close to his grandfather, Abe (Stamp, Unfinished Song), who would frequently impart his fanciful stories of his own youth spent at the peculiar home of the story's title. The home is run by Miss Peregrine (Green, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), who caters to orphan children who possess strange and magical traits (one has bees living within him, another with a mouth on the back of her neck, another with the strength of ten men, etc.). When his grandfather passes, Jacob determines to find if Abe's stories about the magical home off the coast of Wales is real, but he discovers the place in rubble, bombed out by Nazis during World War II. However, Jacob soon discovers that a 'time loop' in which the orphanage continues to exist on the fateful day of the bombing in 1943, thanks to Miss Peregrine's ability to reverse time one day, every day. However, even the time loop may not be enough to save them, as the viciously evil Barron (Jackson, The Legend of Tarzan) and his grotesque Hollowgast friends are out to snuff 'peculiars' out.
Coming across as a mix of "X-Men" (not surprising to find that screenwriter Jane Goldman attached to the scripts for X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past) and "Harry Potter", the film may struggle to find a proper audience, as it is too grotesque and a bit scary for most young children, but too much like other YA adaptations to provide a necessary sense of wonder and suspense for those who've grown up regularly feasting on films surrounding orphans with uncanny traits. It also runs quite a bit long at 127 minutes, which can particularly be felt in the leaden last hour of the film, as Burton and company try to pull out all stops, only to realize that outside of whimsical elements, we don't have the connection to the underdeveloped characters necessary to find their plights suspenseful when they encounter inevitable peril.
Much of the kudos will no doubt go to Eva Green for her striking on-screen visage as Miss Peregrine, though that too seems familiar, particularly for Burton, who has used similar idiosyncratic personalities to be in charge of impressionable children in such films as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Beetlejuice. She also isn't in the film as much as you'd think from the marketing, as a sizable chunk of the story involves the unconvincing friendship (with hints of romance) between Jacob and orphan Emma (Purnell, Maleficent), who can manipulate the air within her in bizarre but wondrous ways. Samuel L. Jackson, as the main baddie, can command the screen, but even he too seems like he's recycling elements from a few of his prior roles as the main heavy in other films, including yet another instance of white-colored hair. As for the children, they're typical movie kids in Burton films, but that's also part of the problem: they may have stayed the same age physically, but they are actually should be as old as Abe mentally, and yet they're no more mature in demeanor as when they likely started the time loop seventy years prior.
What's missing most from Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is plausible emotional connection of the characters to the world around them -- like the character of Emma, without being forced to inject gravitas, the entire thing is utterly weightless. When Abe dies in front of Jacob, with the eerie sight of his eyes removed, there's no sense of either grief or horror that would surely have overtaken any teenager in that position. When Jacob spies a giant, fearsome Hollowgast for the first time, there's no sense of terror or awe. When Jacob travels into the time loop to find all of his grandfather's stories are real, there is no amazement of discovery, or consuming delight. The same with all of the ensuing adventures that take place henceforth. This is a story told by someone who has been down the road of telling such stories all too often, no longer seeing the wonder and majesty of fantastical delights and spooky dangers the way one would when hearing of these things for the first time. If Burton is bored in the way he tells his stories now, then so will we be in watching him on autopilot, perfunctorily checking each box in the narrative until it reaches the ultimate conclusion in a mechanical and plodding way.
Tim Burton's career has been hit and miss, and in more recent years, mostly miss, so it may be apropos that the word "Miss" is right in the film's title, given the lackluster results. Like the characters in his own story, he keeps reliving his glory days in film, but the 'time loop' keeps him from creatively progressing beyond a certain point.
©2016 Vince Leo