By Brad Haynes
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
★★1/2 out of ★★★★
If you get a certain Harry Potter feel from the trailer for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, that’s not surprising. The fantastical series of books by author Ransom Riggs have been likened to those of the Potter franchise, with the “peculiars” having their own set of rules and ways much like the “wizards” from the J.K. Rowling series.
Originally begun by Riggs’ discovery of some photographic oddities from a time well before photoshop, the author worked those photos into the story of sixteen-year-old Jake (Asa Butterfield), a rather awkward youth, whose world is turned upside down after his grandfather is killed by an otherworldly source. Tales of grandfather Abe’s (Terrence Stamp) stay at Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children prompt the grieving boy and his father to travel to the Welsh isle where Abe claims to have lived as a youth during World War II.
Canvassing the island on his own, Jake stumbles upon the building which once housed Miss Peregrine’s Home, and before you know it, finds himself thrown back in time in a loop. You see, the home for these peculiar children was attacked by Nazi bombers, but before that could happen, the amazing Miss Peregrine (director Tim Burton’s newest muse Eva Green) threw the residents of her children’s home into a 24-hour loop, giving them something like an eternal groundhog’s day. While he is there, it’s up to Jake to discover what kind of role his grandfather played in this world and how he might be able to carry on his grandfather’s fight.
The “peculiar children” of the title are just that, including a young girl who eats through severe chompers in the back of her neck, a boy whose stomach is filled with bees, and a young girl who must wear lead boots or else she will float away. That girl, winningly played by Ella Purnell, also seems to be falling for Jake the same way she had for his grandfather oh so many years ago. And it quickly becomes apparent that Jake and his grandfather both share the same peculiarity (the peculiar gene skips a generation, you see).
Even more dreaded than the Nazis who end up bombing the home are a group of peculiars-gone-bad, led by a scenery-chewing Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson, who knows how to do menacing with the best of them, is merely over-the-top and barely believable here.
Burton, who has had some hugely entertaining wins with films involving outcasts such as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Ed Wood, is right at home in this odd world, but the film seems to lack the heart of the novel. The book’s connection between Jake and grandpa Abe gave Jake’s adventure on the island added meaning, but you don’t necessarily get that from the film. Perhaps part of the problem is the casting of Butterfield as Jake. Displaying an initially bland and vacant personality, Butterfield shows little more even when it’s time for him to step up to the plate and save the day. You may recognize him as the title character from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, where he was quite good, but his Jake is definitely lacking in charisma.
The true star here is Green, who as Miss Peregrine, the loving headmistress who is able to change herself into a bird at a moment’s notice, is radiant. When she is on the screen it’s hard to take your eyes off her, even when the children surrounding her look like they stepped out of a carnival side show.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children definitely keeps the “loop” open for sequels (so far, there are three tales from Riggs), but the film’s financial success will surely have plenty to do with whether or not sequels are made. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The Good: Burton creates a strange world like only he can, bringing it all to life with minimal usage of CGI.
The Bad: There’s no real heart to the film, and by the movie’s muddled conclusion, it’s hard to really care about the outcome.
Final Word: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will definitely have a built-in audience with fans of the book, but how they will feel about Burton’s translation is up in the air.
Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Allison Janney. Directed by Tim Burton.
Running Time: 127 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril.