Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016) – Movie Review
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Jane Goldman
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Terence Stamp, Eva Green, Chris O’Dowd, Ella Purnell & Samuel L. Jackson
Music: Mike Higham & Matthew Margeson
Release Date: September 29th 2016
It’s safe to say that Tim Burton has had a tough run of it over the past few years. While he hit his commercial peak with Disney’s live-action remake of ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ in 2010 the film is generally regarded as one of, if not THE worst film Tim Burton has ever made. But after literally making a billion dollars with ‘Alice in Wonderland‘, he was given numerous blank-cheques to make passion projects for Disney, Warner Bros. and the Weinstein Company with ‘Frankenweenie‘, ‘Dark Shadows‘ and ‘Big Eyes‘ respectively, all of which were box-office disappointments. It feels like a lot is riding of Burton’s next movie; ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children‘.
Based off the young-adult novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, the franchise takes inspiration from old black-and-white, vernacular photos depicting supernatural occurrences surrounding creepy-looking children. It’s clearly taking inspiration from the fantasy-franchise “Harry Potter” or “Percy Jackson”, most notably from the boarding school influences and also the concept of persecution and hiding away if you are different. On paper it seems like an ideal adaptation for Tim Burton to tackle, but has this filmmaker lost his edge or is this a peculiarly perfect match?
Jake (Butterfield) has grown up hearing tales from his grandfather Abe (Stamp) about battling literal monsters in World War 2 whilst living at Miss Peregrine’s (Green) Home for Peculiar Children, safe in Wales. One night, when Abe is murdered in the middle of the night by a creature, Jake tries to track down the Home and convinces his father Frank (O’Dowd) to take him to Wales as part of a pilgrimage in honour of his grandfather. There he meets Miss Peregrine who looks after a group of children with “pecularities”, who are under threat from the same beasts who killed Abe. Jake and Miss Peregrine must protect the children at the home whilst also fending off an immortal, shape-shifting threat known as Mr. Barron (Jackson).
The first thing approaching a big issue with ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children‘ is the opening act (and sorry to start this review off with a bad note, it’s just how the movie opens) and it’s here where the movie should have deliberately aped its young-adult contemporaries. Movies like Harry Potter and even Twilight eased the audience AND the main character into the mystical under-belly of society such as Wizards, Vampires etc. But here, the movie elects to have its first, outright supernatural moment occur to our hero within a couple of minutes of the film starting. ‘Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone‘ opened with the adult characters using magic under the cover of darkness to establish the world AND THEN eased the main character into it. Here, after one poorly constructed minute showing our lead Jake at his normal job he’s immediately thrust into a supernatural encounter and then the film spends 30 minutes having him try to re-discover it again. It kills the pacing right off the bat and it’s frustrating to see a “mystery” play out when we as audience members already know otherwise.
Imagine the first Harry Potter movie opening with Harry at Hogwarts and then the next 30 minutes has him back at Privet Drive wondering whether or not it was actually real. That’s basically the opening act of ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children‘.
Which is a shame, because if it weren’t for that opening encounter where Jake sees a massive, tentacled, eye-less monster eat his grandfather’s eyes, the first act would be quite atmospheric and well presented. It’s funny how the camera presents Wales as a distant alien-planet when compared to Jake’s home in America, how much it draws inspiration from ‘An American Werewolf in London‘ when portraying the locals at the pub as well as the relationship that’s established between Jake and Abe. Abe was never a great father to his son, Frank but tried to make up for it by being very close to his grandson Jake and by telling him all his war stories where he fought monsters in the form of the Nazis and LITERAL monsters at Miss Peregrine’s Home. Jake has a brief crisis of faith when he starts to suspect that his father might have just been insane and delusional which could have been an interesting misdirection…had we not seen the massive, tentacled, eye-less monster eating his eyes within 5 minutes of the movie starting.
Once the actual Miss Peregrine, the Home and the Peculiar Children show up, the movie quickly sets aside the first act of the film and becomes its own thing and the results are frequently engaging, enthralling and entertaining. There’s a lot of exposition to get through, but the mechanic that Miss Peregrine and the Children exist in a time-loop in September 3rd 1943 which means the actual events that happen are repeated (think “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask”) helps the audience absorb the information. And since we’re essentially seeing a “day-in-the-life” of these children, it means that Tim Burton’s talent for visual storytelling is on full display with the exposition being bolstered by action.
But because we’re essentially dealing with Tim Burton’s “X-Men”, we don’t just have a a boarding school with good powered children but we have a bad group being led by Samuel L. Jackson who are some of the most terrifying villains to appear in an alleged all-ages film since the Wheelers from ‘Return To Oz‘ or Judge Doom from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘. And once it’s revealed what their actual plan is and how they’re going about it, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children‘ is one of those rare movies that actually earns its 12A certificate and maybe parents of younger children should use their own discretion to determine whether or not it’s too intense for their kids.
While Samuel L. Jackson is essentially playing himself as a villain (not necessarily a criticism), the rest of the cast do very well with the material with the stand-out obviously being Eva Green as the badass, enigmatic Miss Peregrine. She absolutely owns the role with an incredible presense and even though we don’t see her do much of note or anything particularly badass, you’d still follow her into battle any day of the week. The hair, wardrobe, the comically large pipe that she smokes, Miss Peregrine is a really cool character from top-to-bottom. Asa Butterfield is solid, Chris O’Dowd is effective comic-relief, Terence Stamp is exactly what you’d want him to be and the child actors acquit themselves admirably. We also have Judi Dench in a brief role and while she does really well, the film commits the previously unheard of crime of giving Judi Dench a crossbow on-screen but then never actually showing her firing it.
That’s not to say the rest of the film is perfect and while there’s a lot of humour and stand-out moments, some of the character relationships can feel murky at best. We’ve got the obligatory “Draco” role played by Finlay MacMillan who hates Jake for reasons that are never convincing and a romance between his character and Lauren McCrostie which feels so out-of-place and while the love story between Jake and Ella Purnell’s character feels earnest and sweet, there’s so much plot to get through that you never really buy Jake’s relationship with the rest of the kids and his connection to them.
And then time-travel gets involved in the narrative with it being established that if the Children leave their time-loop then time will catch up with them and they’ll turn into dust and die. But when the climax of the film involves hopping through numerous time-zones and going through different time-loops then it makes the actual stakes rather muddy. Aren’t the kids meant to be dying? Which time zone are we in? Which time period is actually in danger right now?
There’s one two-minute scene near the beginning of the 3rd act where Jake and his love-interest Emma are establishing their romance, figuring out which time-zone the villains are hiding in, figuring out how they’re going to get there and also rallying the troops to get the children to fight back. It’s such a short scene with so much to get across and something has got to give. I can imagine this working incredibly well in the page, but maybe the film needed another pass through the editing room to make it more cohesive. But the world the film paints and the aesthetics of it are so enjoyable that I wouldn’t have minded an additional 20 minutes being added to help get across these relationships and the specifics of the story.
Though, to be fair, we don’t really remember movies like ‘Beetlejuice‘, ‘Edward Scissorhands‘, ‘Corpse Bride‘ and others from Burton’s filmography because of their stories. We remember them because of their visually distinct worlds and the emotions they made us feel in those worlds. As a result, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children‘ is an ideal summation of everything that works and doesn’t work in a Tim Burton film.
Tim Burton’s style on creative autopilot can result in messes like ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ or ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘, but here it seems like he’s had a little more editorial oversight which results in a more grounded film that is still reminiscent of Burton’s best films like ‘Edward Scissorhands‘, ‘Big Eyes‘ and ‘Ed Wood‘. The children’s powers are well realised through both extensive costuming, make-up as well as C.G.I., the Home for Peculiars is a grand feat of production design with incredibly well designed sets and it’s also the first time in decades that we’ve seen what action chops Tim Burton has got and the results are constantly fun and fresh. We get stop-motion-esque skeletons, a cross-bow wielding Eva Green, someone being enveloped by plant-life and more with the action in this film is above-and-beyond anything from the X-Men franchise.
One set-piece involving the raising of a sunken ship where all the Peculiar Children’s powers come together is one of 2016’s best moments and the accompanying musical score by Mike Higham and Matthew Margeson just makes the moment feel so much more epic. Colleen Atwood naturally designs and creates amazing costumes, the make-up team led by Paul Gooch have done terrific work and while the C.G.I. work is obvious at points, the creatures and landscapes are so well designed that you can overlook it.
‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children‘ may not be narratively solid enough to be called a Tim Burton “comeback” but nontheless it’s still a really fun time at the movies. There’s too much exposition to make it as accessible as the first Harry Potter movie and it feels like there’s a lot of set-up for potential sequels that might never see the light of day, but the cast give their best, the design of the world is inventive, the villains are fun and it’s just great to see Burton showcase his German expressionist influences, talent for portraying childhood nightmare fuel and prepencity for showcasing those with different mindsets and talents. It just takes a long time to get there as the first act is kind of a lost cause.
I give ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children‘ 3 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 29th Dec 16