Film Review: 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'
This fall, the movies are getting magical. The Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is due in November, along with Marvel's Doctor Strange. And there's a different kind of magic at play as well; it's the time of year where Oscar hopefuls begin to make their mass-market debuts. Tim Burton makes his contribution to a season of wonder with Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the adaptation of the Ransom Riggs novel that's equal parts magical and, appropriately enough, peculiar. So it's no wonder that a movie featuring a goth-like Mary Poppins in charge of strangely gifted kids - there's a child that can summon bees from his mouth and a girl that can float through the air - would be helmed by Burton, like these are the mutants he would come up with if he were writing X-Men.
But before we get to all the strange bits, we're introduced to the normal-seeming Jake (Asa Butterfield, formerly of Ender's Game fame) who voyages to a mysterious island. We care about him quickly: apart from the mysterious passing of his grandfather (an excellent Terence Stamp, even in his limited screen time), he finds no support or comfort from his father (Chris O'Dowd), who instead opts to close doors of curiosity and retreat to alcohol. It's a wonder that Jake retains his curiosity and sense of exploration after some soul-crushing childhood moments.
On this Jake stumbles through a forest and finds himself in the picturesque 1940's, at a house filled with said peculiar children - and led by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, a perfect choice for the role) herself. He's found himself in an infinite time loop, and Miss Peregrine and the children live out their lives on the same day, Groundhog Day-style, with special effects to match. It's as quirky as you would expect a Tim Burton movie to be, but with solid characterization behind it; Jake and Miss Peregrine are a treat to watch develop, and they're the reason the movie is surprisingly easy to get into.
Miss Peregrine definitely has that sort of Harry Potter-ish magical air where oddities and peculiarities are accepted as fact and need little to no explaining. With that as the backdrop, it's an enchanting movie to watch that inspires a sort of wonder, especially when driven by a boy who chooses to continue to explore, and perhaps discover his own peculiarities along the way. In a way, Miss Peregrine is the caretaker he wishes he had, even if her dark attire masks her warm and caring sense of duty. For as much as Burton films rely so much on their set pieces and their visual flair, Miss Peregrine is refreshingly character-driven.
In a tale like that, it's all too unfortunate that the film's villain, Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) receives noticeably less development than his good counterparts. Jackson, calling upon more melodramatic and bombastic acting, makes the most of his relatively limited screen time in what is easily one of his most unusual roles. Nevertheless, he and his army of eyeball-eating creatures are a good match to the good-natured heroes.
But that's not to say that Miss Peregrine is particularly innovative, as its climax and resolution are predictable to a fault, and the movie runs out of steam just when it's supposed to get really good. Curiously, it's right at the part where it begins to get really drenched in CGI, and action sequences become placeholders for actual narrative advancement. But for a moment, the film is whimsical, magical, and a touch wonderful to go along with the massive helpings of eccentricity that Tim Burton had made his signature. The film has all the makings of a family film mainstay, assuming Barron's eyeball-eating henchmen don't scare off too many kids.
Rated PG-13. 127 minutes.
Written by Jane Goldman (screenplay) and Ransom Riggs (book).
Directed by Tim Burton.
Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, and Judi Dench.