Burton's macabre hand is a perfect fit for quirky 'Miss Peregrine'
Posted October 2, 2016
“MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN” — 3 stars — Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Ella Purnell; PG-13 (intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril); in general release
Director Tim Burton has been working with big-name franchises since 1989’s “Batman.” But it feels like he has been particularly immersed in well-known material over the last 10-15 years, lending his macabre hand to films such as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Alice in Wonderland," and even his adaptation of the late 1960s TV show "Dark Shadows."
"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is also an adaptation — from author Ransom Riggs' novel — but the new film feels closer to Burton's earlier voice. It doesn't have the striking personality of "Beetlejuice" or the surprising wonder of "Edward Scissorhands," but “Miss Peregrine” still offers Burton's trademark exploration of the world from the perspective of the people who never feel like they fit in.
"Miss Peregrine's" outcast is Jake (Asa Butterfield), a Florida teenager tasked with rescuing a group of gifted children who live in a spooky mansion on an island near Wales. Jake's grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp) used to look over the children and drifted from contact over the years. When Abraham is killed in the woods behind Jake's Florida home, the young boy inherits the position.
Abraham had filled his grandson with fantastical tales of the children and their magical matron Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) since he was very young, but it isn't until Jake arrives on the island of Cairnholm that he realizes the stories were true.
To everyone else, including Jake’s bird-watching father, Franklin (Chris O'Dowd), their stately mansion is the bombed-out remnants of a 1943 German air strike. But Jake is able to get behind the paranormal curtain to discover Miss Peregrine and the children are alive and well, hiding in a time loop that offers them both immortality and protection.
One by one, Jake meets all the real-life “peculiars” he used to see in his grandfather's photographs. There's Millard (Cameron King), the invisible boy, and Olive (Lauren McCrostie), a girl who sets fire to anything she touches. Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) can bring puppets to life, and Claire (Raffiella Chapman) is immensely strong. But Jake takes a special liking to Emma (Ella Purnell), a young woman who can control air and must wear lead shoes all the time so she doesn't float away.
Miss Peregrine can change into a bird, but her skills aren't limited to shape shifting. She's a special kind of creature called an Ymbryne. Ymbrynes are able to create time loops and are thus entrusted with managing the other peculiars.
But the time loops do more than protect the peculiars from the persecution of the outside world. A nasty group of supernatural monsters named Hollows (led by a creepy-eyed Samuel L. Jackson) are responsible for Abraham’s death and have set their sights on Miss Peregrine and the children.
It all makes for a fun and fantastical tale that mines Burton's clever, oddball quirkiness and eventually becomes a showdown between the kids and the evil Hollows. While the finale pales in comparison to a lot of big-budget Hollywood action productions, it does have the advantage of using stop-motion animated skeletons, which pays homage to the stop-motion animation work of Ray Harryhausen in “Jason and the Argonauts.”
Built on the talents of actors such as Jackson and the always-welcome Stamp, “Miss Peregrine” falls in line as another triumph in supernatural atmosphere, even if the story only hints at the potential its world holds. For many Burton fans, it will feel like a welcome return to form.
“Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril; running time: 127 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.