Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
It seems to be a common held belief that, of late, Tim Burton has lost his mojo somewhat, and become a bit of a parody of himself. Many would place the blame for this at the feet of such films as Charlie and the Chocolate factory, and Dark Shadows, where he has lent very heavily on Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean, Yoga Hosers), and Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club, Cinderella) as his muses, and appears to have rested on his laurels. His visual style is so distinctive that his name is used to describe a certain gothic flair, and this familiarity to his work has resulted in even his most die-hard fans feeling that he’s been phoning it. So has Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children broken his slump?
Based on the bestselling novel series by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children finds us in fairly familiar Burton-esque territory. Young Jake, played by the eternally wide-eyed Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game, Hugo), is coming to terms with the unusual passing of his grandfather Abe, after Jake finds him in the woods behind his Florida home with both his eyes missing. This is explained away by the authorities as predators going for the soft bits, but young Jake isn’t convinced after some strange goings on when he finds Abe’s body. It’s revealed that Jake was once close to Abe, and in flashbacks we see Terence Stamp (Big Eyes, Valkyrie, Superman, Superman II) bringing the grandfatherly Abe to life as he tells fantastical stories to young Jake of the school he went to, a school run by the titular Miss Peregrine. In an attempt to gain some closure Jake and his father head off to the small Welsh island where this school is supposed to be and find it was destroyed during the Second World War.
Here we have really start the journey into the peculiar, as, whilst exploring, Jake is found by some of the children his grandfather knew, and finds that the Home for Peculiar Children exists in a time loop, repeating the same day in 1942 over and over again, for as long as Miss Peregrine, Eva Green (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, 300: Rise of an Empire) at her scenery chewing best, is there to reset it every day. So the children never age, and they stay safe, for there are monsters that stalk them. These are called hollows, and are led by Samuel L Jackson’s (The Legend of Tarzan, Kingsman: the Secret Service) character, the evil Barron. As the movie progresses, Jackson does what he can to bring some menace to the part, but is constantly fighting a set of fairly ridiculous false nashers, and some pretty hammy dialogue.
From here we follow a fairly standard hero’s journey. Jake finds out he’s special, can help save the rest of the kids, and that he has a destiny. That’s not to say that the story isn’t enjoyable. The young cast are actually on damn good form, and rarely fall into the perennial trap of child actors, being excessively annoying. The powers that they each have range from interesting to horrifying, and the actors play the characters perpetually stuck in time, with no future to move onto very well, with some making do with the lot given to them, and others giving up, and letting the darker sides of their personalities out to play. The introduction of Jake to this closed system, and the inevitable changes he brings, gives them all something separate to chew on as performers, and it’s an enjoyable and, at times, disturbing watch. So in this, we see Burton returning to form on at least some levels. The source material offers him something to work with, and the darkness of the world that Riggs has created is a perfect Burton playground. That’s not to say this is a film that will be too much for younger audiences, instead think of it as similar to Roald Dahl at his darkest and most grotesque.
The problems come more with the action than the story. Although there is an attempt to bring some real spectacle to the piece, even the scenes that are fleshed out from the trailers, such as the rising of a sunken ship, feel slightly pedestrian. There is also an issue with the fact that the way the universe is setup, there is no real sense of peril come the final confrontation. Not only are our main protagonists very well powered as a group, but the rules of the universe say that they have to win or the trilogy will come to a very sudden halt. There isn’t much Burton can do about this as a director, after all it’s not his story, but it does mean you are somewhat distant from the characters as they face off for the final confrontation.
As far as cinematography goes, it is as you would expect. The world is wonderfully off-kilter, and gorgeous to look at. The costumes are beautiful and the juxtaposition between the worlds in and out of the time loop give a visual richness to the world. On the flip side, there are plot holes all over the place, the smallest of which is that it’s very convenient that 2016 Jake wears clothes that could pass as 1940’s styling rather than jeans and a hoodie. As with any movie that has at least a component of time-travelling involved, this small plot-hole is the least glaring, but you do have to come to the point that you step away and just let them slide, or you will end up like me, sitting ranting about them to people that don’t care.
Whilst not a true return to form for Tim Burton, this is the closest he’s come in years to recapturing some of his magic. It’s pretty, and fairly engaging, with a cast doing a fine job from top to bottom. It is just a pity that it is just lacking a certain something, never drawing you in as previous Burton offerings have, and leaving you with the feeling that you’ve watched a Tim Burton movie rather than having experienced one. If you are a fan of his work, or if your family their movies with a slightly more twisted take on the world, you’ll not find this offering that peculiar at all.
- a young likable cast.
- pretty visuals.
- something a little darker for the kids.
- a lack of immersion.
- plot holes you can sail a sunken cruise ship through.
- just “something” missing.