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 and Asa Butterfield in Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

Eva Green and Asa Butterfield in Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024