Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Directed by: Tim Burton.
Written by: Jane Goldman based on the novel by Ransom Riggs.
Starring: Eva Green (Miss Alma LeFay Perigrine), Asa Butterfield (Jake), Samuel L. Jackson (Barron), Judi Dench (Miss Avocet), Rupert Everett (Ornithologist), Allison Janney (Dr. Golan), Chris O'Dowd (Franklin Portman), Terence Stamp (Abraham 'Abe' Portman), Ella Purnell (Emma Bloom), Finlay MacMillan (Enoch O'Conner), Lauren McCrostie (Olive Abroholos Elephanta), Hayden Keeler-Stone (Horace Somnusson), Georgia Pemberton (Fiona Fruanfeld), Milo Parker (Hugh Apiston), Raffiella Chapman (Claire Densmore), Pixie Davies (Bronwyn Bruntley).
Tim Burton has been flailing artistically for a while now – really only the delightful animated film Frankenweenie has been really good of his last five films (also including Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows and Big Eyes). He still has a soft spot for society’s outcasts, the gothier and paler the better – and he does seem to find properties that, on paper anyway, should be a natural fit for his sensibilities. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a perfect example of a film that really should be in Burton’s wheelhouse – and yet, the resulting film is just kind of flat. Some of the problem lays in the source material – Ransom Riggs’ novel is the first in a trilogy, and spends so much time setting everything up, that the story takes a backseat to exposition, which drags the movie down a little bit. Still though, the plot of Dark Shadows was paper thin, and Burton turned that movie at least into a visual delight, with some good comedic moments. This film just kind of sits on the screen waiting to end.
The story is overcomplicated, but I’ll try to condense it. Florida teenager Jake (Asa Butterfield) is reeling from the death of his beloved, eccentric grandfather (Terrence Stamp), who used to regale Jake with stories of his childhood during WWII, at an orphanage in Wales, populated by children with peculiar powers. With the help of his therapist (Allison Janney) – Jake convinces his father (Chris O’Dowd) to take him to Wales to see the orphanage so he can get “closure”. What he discovers instead is that the orphanage is nothing but a bombed out wreck – the victim of Nazi bomb in 1943, that killed everyone in it. Soon though, Jake discovers there is more when he enters a “time loop” – something only the “peculiar” can do. Sure enough, the orphanage was destroyed in 1943, but Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who runs the orphanage, has the power to reset time every 24 hours, rewinding it over and over again so that she can and her children never get destroyed by that bomb. No one else in this time loop knows this is happening – just the peculiars. Jake meets not only Miss Peregrine – who aside from resetting time can transfer herself into a bird – but also her charges – the beautiful, blonde proto-Burton woman Emma (Ella Purnell), so light she will float away if not where lead boots, Olive (Lauren McCrostie), who can set things on fire with her hands, Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), who can bring things to life – and on and on. The orphanage is basically Xavier’s School for the Gifted, if it was in 1943 Wales, and the children never grew up. The movie spends so much time setting all this up, that the introduction of a bad guy – Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) seems rushed, and his plan fairly ill thought out. Jackson is able to cackle menacingly, of course, and seem like a real badass, so he does that well at least.
There are moments of the film I liked – I do like the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, who does wonders with dark, foggy establishing shots throughout the film. There is a wonderful action sequence, where skeletons fight long limbed, eyeless monsters covered in candy (don’t ask) that is pure Burton magic. Eva Green is a campy delight as Miss Peregrine. This is her second time in a Burton film (following Dark Shadows) – and if there is hope for Burton in the future, it rests on Green taking over for Johnny Depp as his go to weirdo.
But more in the film doesn’t work than does. I liked Ella Purnell just fine as Emma – although I have to say I find it a little creepy (and not in the way Burton intended) how she is made up to look like a lot of other Burton, wide eyed naifs in his filmography (like Burton is Scottie in Vertigo). I also feel like as a filmmaking, Burton has been hurt by his recent over-reliance on CGI effects. His best movies from the 1990s – even ones that used computer effects – still had a retro, hand-made feel to them – as his films have grown in budget, and become slicker, they’ve lost that charm- and Burton, once a distinctive visual stylist has become more homogenized.
It’s certainly become fashionable to hate on Tim Burton over the past few years – and he has made it easy to do so with the likes of Alice in Wonderland, Big Eyes and Dark Shadows, and now this one. I will admit to liking those more than most (although, not that much) – and to being a fan of both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd. So perhaps there is hope for Burton after all. I’d be delighted with another animated film as good as Frankenweenie. The fact that his next two films though are a remake of Dumbo and a long time coming sequel to Beetlejuice doesn’t fill me with hope though.