“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is such an ideal match of director and material that you wonder why it didn’t come along sooner. If anyone was perfect for this fantastical material, it’s Tim Burton, the master of heartfelt horror.
It might have “peculiar” in its title but the movie tells an ordinary story, encompassing highly relatable themes of loneliness, isolation, tolerance and the need for love and acceptance. It’s all stuff Burton has deftly explored before, from “Edward Scissorhands” to the animated black-and-white gem “Frankenweenie” to “Alice in Wonderland.”
In adapting Ransom Riggs’s 2011 YA novel, screenwriter Jane Goldman (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) provides Burton with the same mix of real and fantasy he conjured for the similarly themed “Big Fish.” Like that movie, “Miss Peregrine’s” sports a colorful collection of characters and father-and-son animosity, as Burton weaves a time-traveling adventure in which Asa Butterfield’s Jake travels from the present back to 1943. Following the clues provided by his beloved late grandpa, Abe (Terence Stamp), Jake is transported to a spooky Welsh island (with his dad in tow) that’s home to a special orphanage for gifted children. The plotting gets wicked wonky, so it’s best to ignore it. Really. Just follow Jake (and Burton) down the rabbit hole and you’ll be rewarded with a typical (not exceptional) Burton-esque experience that’ll make you laugh, squirm and feel a bit warm and fuzzy. Some moviegoers might want something more cohesive and less disjointed, but that’s not happening. The convoluted script that encompasses the alternate universes of the past and present just doesn’t cut it. Much talk occurs about time loops and resets, Ymbrynes (a woman who can manipulate time and turn into a bird) and Hollowgasts (monsters with no eyes). And back in the real world there are well-meaning therapists (Allison Janney) and concerned parents (Chris O’Dowd and Kim Dickens). Luckily, Burton is around to compensate with his endless imagination. He’s so deft at creating these bizarro and outlandish settings that you forgive the overcooked script.
The cast is led by the always terrific Butterfield (“Hugo,” “Enders Game”) and a pipe-smoking, never-better Eva Green as head-of-the-house, Miss Peregrine. Green, who co-starred in Burton’s “Dark Shadows” plays it pitch-perfect and unabashedly campy as the mysterious but caring protector of the children. No scenery is safe when she goes toe-to-toe chewing it up with Samuel L. Jackson’s white-haired Barron, a sort-of-human who’s chasing “peculiars” — to eat their eyeballs. (Remember, I warned you about the plot).
The film’s biggest asset is its cast of “peculiars.” You can’t get enough of them even though the script short-shrifts them on character development. Hugh (Milo Parker) has a stomach full of bees. Jake’s love interest, Emma (Ella Purnell), is lighter than air and floats away when her lead shoes are removed. She can also control air. Olive (Lauren McCrostie) has hands that wield fire. Bronwyn (Pixie Davis) has incredible strength. Millard (Cameron King) is invisible. Claire (Raffiella Chapman) has an extra mouth in the back of her neck that she uses to eat. Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) can temporarily bring dead creatures back to life. The fashion-forward Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) has prophetic dreams, which he projects onto a screen for their “family” movie night.
In the end, the story adheres to Burton’s career-long message: Being different is a gift. Now there’s nothing odd about that.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”
Cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Allison Janney, Terence Stamp.
(PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril.)