Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril
2 hr. 7 min.
He’s arrived just in time for All Hallow’s Eve. Tim Burton has returned — the Tim Burton of Beetlejuice, Batman and Sweeney Todd. Not that he’s been away, per se. His films have taken critical hits that made it seem like he wasn’t himself. That will not be the case with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
A Burton film should be a combination of a freak show and Pageant of the Masters. The cinematography, the acting and the skewed, fascinating vision of this director should mesh to result in the weird and the wonderful. He has failed only when the eccentricities overshadowed the script (see Big Eyes).
His cohort in bringing Miss Peregrine’s to the screen is writer Jane Goldman, who adapted the best-selling young adult novel (yes, young adults still read more than acronyms!) by Ransom Riggs. Goldman is drawn to the same mix of spooky and kooky as Burton — the charmingly macabre, a brand as specific to him as his own DNA. Even the opening credits contribute to the eerie, whimsical vibe, dissolving into an ethereal mist, a smear of smoke that fades into the next credit.
The director has taken some liberties with Miss Peregrine’s. Those familiar with the book may immediately see the changes made to move things along. No matter: Eva Green as the pipe-smoking Peregrine is, in Burton’s words, “a scary Mary Poppins.” I’d say more like a foxy Nanny McPhee, with a crossbow and a better set of teeth. The story is tailor-made to Burrton’s perspicacity. The only things missing are Johnny Depp and Helen Bonham Carter, headliners in his usual cadre of regulars.
Ah, but the story! Teen outcast Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) has listened to his grandfather (Terence Stamp) tell monster stories since he was a child. The tales would be accompanied by a peek at vintage, sepia-toned photographs from the 1940s. Grandpa Abe has kept a secret from Jake all his life. After the old man meets his maker, Jake and his dad (Chris O’Dowd) set out for a Welsh Island to get to the root of the mystery behind Grandpa Abe’s tales. There, Jake falls through a time loop where he comes upon Miss Peregrine, her home and her peculiar charges. And peculiar they are. They’re mutations, really, with powers not unlike Marvel’s X-Men. In fact, both J.K. Rowling and Stan Lee might appreciate the homage paid them in this film.
These children are different: One’s invisible, another opens his mouth and spews forth bees. There are masked twins who hide visages straight out of Greek mythology, two more that have Herculean strength, a redhead that starts fires at the touch of her hand and another girl with an unusually situated orifice.
This house of peculiarity exists in September 1943, frozen in time. As the plot develops, the monsters Grandpa Abe described in his stories arrive, along with villains known as Hallows. Their ringleader is Mr. Barron, played by the always superb Samuel L. Jackson. As chief bad guy, Jackson bears both the teeth of a piranha and the hairstyle of Frederick Douglass. His quips are as lively as any Marvel villain. Stan Lee would be proud.
References and nods aside, this film is all Burton. The cinematography is rich, beautiful, creative, and that which doesn’t look realistic is intentionally so . . . as homage.
Movies have been to places like this before. Misfit children have been pursued by malevolent entities, there have been mysteries and secrets, powers and eeriness. It doesn’t matter if the concept is new or borrowed. This movie is good Halloween fun, rendered by a master regaining his groove, with textured material and an excellent cast. Maybe not having that usual repertory company of Depp and Bonham Carter was a wise choice. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children brings back Tim Burrton’s self-specific weirdness in full flower.