If there were ever a property tailor-made for director Tim Burton, it’s Ransom Riggs’ best-selling novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The author (a lifelong Burton fan) was inspired to write his dark fable after he began collecting antique photos of people, some of whom one might have encountered at “freak shows” in years gone by. By opening the story in the present-day and time-traveling to 1943, screenwriter Jane Goldman enables a contemporary audience to identify with the film’s teenage-misfit hero before he journeys back to another era.
Jake (Asa Butterfield) is devastated by the loss of his beloved grandfather (Terence Stamp) who fought in World War II. Seeking both solace and resolution, he persuades his father to accompany him to the mysterious place in Wales his granddad spoke about so often… and discovers that it really exists, in a manner of speaking. This is the eerie Victorian seaside mansion where Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) has the ability to create time loops that protects her vulnerable children, each of whom possesses a peculiar power or ability from lighting things on fire to inhaling or exhaling enormous quantities of air and water. Locking them in a time warp that cycles the same day over and over will shield them from their enemies.
I enjoyed this Halloween fantasy and its imaginative visual styling (by production designer Gavin Bouquet, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, and longtime Burton costume designer Colleen Atwood), although parents will have to decide how many weird, nightmarish images their kids can tolerate.
My chief complaint is that the climax takes so long to unfold; a more compact telling of the tale would have made it much stronger. And, much as I appreciate Samuel L. Jackson in a role that encourages him to chew the scenery, he’s a bit on-the-nose for my taste. It would have been much more interesting to cast someone we’ve never seen in that mode before.
Eva Green is an ideal Miss Peregrine: exotic and enigmatic, but unwavering in her devotion to the children in her care. Asa Butterfield has proven himself many times over (in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Hugo, Ender’s Game, et al) but here I’m afraid he’s a bit dull. A more animated hero, no pun intended, might have strengthened the protracted story.
Still, this movie enables Tim Burton to play to his strengths, with a strong cast and an A-list group of collaborators. Kudos to the director and screenwriter for managing to give each peculiar child an individual identity and personality—no easy task. Burton aficionados should have a field day with all of this and be forgiving of the film’s relatively minor flaws.