Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Movie Review
Rating: B (Good)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Tim Burton has made a delightful career out of the macabre and oddball and the outsiders of our society. The story for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, adapted from the book by Ransom Riggs, appears tailor made to him and it delivers with his whimsical charm and darkness. While the fun somewhat lessens in the overly convoluted third act, through most of it is a celebration of those who are different and a Burton-style period piece to boot. It’s almost surprising he has not directed more films set in notable historical times, because his interpretations of different eras can be quite imaginative.
The best portions of Miss Peregrine are those in which we meet each and every peculiar child residing in an old manor, living the same day repeatedly. There’s a lot of imagination to each child and Burton and credited screenwriter Jane Goldman make each of them unique and stand out. While a few of them, like the levitating Emma, receive more attention than others, nobody is forced into the background and forgotten about. When the big action climax happens, they all play a role. The screenplay goes to great pains to explain the back story behind them and the sinister monsters that seek their powers, but never in a way that becomes overly expository.
The main character of Jacob mainly serves as a blank slate for the audience to project themselves onto and Asa Butterfield does suitably well in the role, as do the Peculiar Children he encounters. Eva Green relishes the role of Miss Peregrine, chewing on each word of dialogue with both fantastical excitement at the talented children surrounding her and a commanding confidence when she knows trouble is on the horizon. The hollowgasts, genetically created tentacle-spewing monsters, are creepily designed by Burton’s production team with an even more horrifying back story to boot. Burton does not shy away from their viciousness and Miss Peregrine is a film with a lot more death than one might expect. Burton’s love for Hammer horror films and German Expressionism is most evident in these scenes.
Burton and director of photography Bruno Delbonnel also do something clever with the colours. In present day, the colours are muted with little sunshine and when Jacob travels to the 1940s, Burton and Delbonnel open up the curtains to reveal more hues. This is a common trope when taking a character from our dull world to a magical time and place of wonder, but Burton is one of those filmmakers who is able to use it to spectacular effect. Credit should also go to production designer Gavin Bocquet for the fantastic interiors of the children’s home, a creative mix of Victorian era architecture and macabre wonder. Costume designer Colleen Atwood makes each child distinct in their clothing with Peregrine wearing some memorable fashions of her own. Not seeing Danny Elfman’s name in the opening titles is a surprise, but composers Michael Higham and Matthew Margeson do a decent job of imitating his style.
While the first ninety or so minutes bring many joys and wonders and we’re mostly content to hang out with these marvelous creations, the story issues become bigger in the third act as Burton and Goldman try to resolve all of the many plot points. Time travel is always tricky to write and this is one of those cases where thinking too much about the time loops and jumps can make one’s brain hurt. The film tries to accomplish so much and when all of the action is happening, it becomes difficult to keep track of where everyone is. So much is established early on and not everything is resolved and we’re left worrying about the fate of certain characters. Miss Peregrine starts to feel overlong as it goes from one massive set piece to the next. Maybe smaller would have been better.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children may not represent the best of Tim Burton, but it is a solid addition to his filmography and continuing proof of his legacy as a filmmaker of imagination. He is a director who certainly has his tropes and yet remarkably never seeks to make the same film twice. There are his always welcome themes about outsiders, plus the gothic appearance so connected with him and yet it still feels like a new adventure with different perils. While the time travel elements don’t mesh together in the most successful ways, it is something relatively new to his film work and this Groundhog Day-esque existence comes with its own delights.