Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Review
A PECULIAR “PAGE TO SCREEN” TALE
If you’re looking for a film that has dark and quirky and imaginative, then chances are that you’ve probably seen a few movies done by Tim Burton. Director, producer, writer, and animator, Burton has run the whole gambit of filmmaking, showcasing his talents in various projects throughout the years. While he’s had a hand in multiple film genres of movies from quirky fantasies (Beetlejuice, Alice in Wonderland, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) to blockbuster-esque style films (Planet of the Apes, Batman, and Batman Returns), to musicals (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and The Nightmare Before Christmas), there has always been a “signature” look, feel, and tone to them all, a special touch that only Burton’s creative mind (be it good, bad, or downright kooky) could’ve dreamed up. Like all directors, Burton has had his fair share of success and failures throughout his film career, with more recent film projects falling in the latter category (i.e. Alice Through the Looking Glass). Now, director Tim Burton (along with 20th Century Fox), prepares his newest feature film to the big screen with the “page to screen” adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Does Burton find his groove with this “peculiar” tale or is it failed jump book to film?
Growing up, Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) developed a close bond with his grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp), enjoying his tales about monsters and of a home for children with unique abilities, run by the Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). When Abraham is suddenly killed in Florida (by unseen forces), Jake is determined to discover if his grandfather’s tales were true, joining his distracted father Franklin (Chris O’Dowd) on a trip to Wales, hoping to find Miss Peregrine’s mysterious home. Locating the home (abandoned and in ruin), Jake is soon confronted by Emma (Ella Purnell), a special girl with aero kinetic powers, who brings the confused boy through time to meet Miss Peregrine in 1943. Learning about “time loops” and Miss Peregrine’s ability as a powerful witch-like being (an Ymbryne), Jake also meets the rest of the peculiar children, including the pyro-kinetic wielder Olive (Lauren McCrostie), the strong girl Bronwyn (Pixies Davies), and Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), who can briefly resurrect the dead. While enchanted by his new friends, an evil threat soon arrives in the form of a monstrous Hollowgasts (Hollows for short) and Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), leader of the Wights, who hunt “Peculiar children” for their malevolent purposes.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
While I’m not a super huge fan of his work, I’ve seen plenty of Tim Burton’s work to appreciate his style, which is a combination of colorful imagination and all things oddly strange. Films like Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before the Christmas, and Edward Scissorhands are some of Burton’s movies that I do like the most and, while he has hit a “rut” of sorts with his newer movies, they still interject his own quirky style of filmmaking. I remember seeing the trailers for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and definitely had a sense that Burton’s style would work with the story. Plus, I loved the song that they used in the trailers (New World Coming by Benjamin Wallfisch & Disa), which I’ve downloaded on iTunes. While the movie wasn’t on top list of anticipated films to see, I was still curious to see the feature, which many were calling a sort of knock-off premise of X-Men (i.e. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters). After watching the movie, I felt that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, while it does falter in several areas, is still creatively well-made and imaginative with Burton’s touch.
For those who don’t know, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is based on the 2011 debut novel of the same name by author Ransom Riggs, the first installment in a trilogy (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children). Prior to watching the movie, I decided to read the book (I just finished several days before seeing it), so Riggs’s novel was still very fresh in mind while I viewed the movie. In truth, after completing the book, I felt that the novel was tailor-made for director Tim Burton to make. I mean…. time travel, weird creatures, people with powers (Peculiars), and a touch of dark elements, Riggs’s novel was a perfect fit for Burton adapted into a live-action film. Like the book, Burton keeps the tale squarely on Jake’s journey (for the most part), following him on his quest to uncover the truth about Miss Peregrine and the rest of the children. It’s a classic “coming-of-age” story that layered with discovery and grief and, while a bit commonplace, its works effectively. Also, like the book, Burton utilizes old photograph pictures in certain scenes, which are illustrated in the novel as well as playing a part in the story to describe certain events.
When the movie finally reaches the point of introducing Miss Peregrine and all her Peculiar Children (circa 1943), it’s definitely feels like a Burton film, pouring creativeness into the feature with bright color palettes and oddly unique abilities. Even Miss Peregrine’s orphanage home is beautifully design, a pleasant fanciful backdrop setting that feels just as mystical as those with peculiar powers. As a side-note, I do have to mention that cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and costume designer Colleen Atwood, which helps bring this surreal world to life via cinema magic and appropriate style costume apparel. In short, the film’s visual appeal excels in Miss Peregrine.
Unfortunately, Miss Peregrine is not Burton’s best as several problems arise within the feature’s proceedings. Perhaps the one I found the most problematic is the film’s script, which was penned by Jane Goldman, who has previously scripted such films as X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, and Kingsman: The Secret Service (yeah a lot of Matthew Vaughn movies). While Goldman’s strips Riggs’s novel to essential elements for the film, Miss Peregrine serves too many master in its narrative. This is usually a common problem in book-to-film adaptations as the book can express all the author’s details, nuances, and sub-plots “unrestricted” by the constraints of a movie’s runtime. With Miss Peregrine, it stumbles here and there as there’s so much to explain in characters, places, and events that has to be left in the final cut to create a cohesive story. Thus, Goldman juggles a lot here as she and Burton struggle (at various points) to balance Jake’s tale and all its peculiar complexity in-between. In addition, the film’s third act, which sort of deviates a bit from how the book is, feels a bit clunky, devolving into something that feels “out of place” in the movie. This is usually a problem with Burton’s more recent movies like in the two live-action Disney production features of Alice in Wonderland (Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass) as the director find difficulty in “landing his plane” in the third act as Miss Peregrine’s final battle scenes seems a bit cartoon-ish when it should go more dark and twisted.
The cast in Miss Peregrine is a diverse cast, a mixture of several recognizable faces (mostly the adults) as well as some unrecognizable ones (consisting mostly of the younger cast). The three primary main characters to follow in the movie are in Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, and Samuel L. Jackson, respectfully playing Jake Portman, Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine, and Barron. Butterfield, known for his roles in Hugo and Ender’s Game, does fairly good job in the role of Jake. Since this is the first installment in a potential film franchise, there isn’t that much well-roundness to Jake than beyond the standard “coming-of-age” hero architype that are commonly found in YA / Teen film adaptations. On the other hand, Butterfield’s Jake helps establish a “likeable” character to follow through this very strange new world. Then there’s Eva Green, who, of course, is the scene stealer in the film as the timely and precise guardian Miss Peregrine. While it may not be her greatest performance in her filmography (I still love her as Vespa Lynn in Casino Royale or Sibylla in Kingdom of Heaven), it’s still a delight to see Green in this Mary Poppins-esque type role. Lastly, Samuel L. Jackson, who’s done many, many films over the years (some good, some bad) plays the film’s antagonist Barron. While he looks the part (definitely creepy-looking), he basically becomes a monologuing baddie that has Jackson’s persona. Its effective, but nothing truly grand in terms of evildoers or Jackson’s memorable roles.
In a somewhat “breakout performance” is actress Ella Purnell as Emma, a character that’s lighter than air and has power of air at her command. Purnell has been in several other movies, playing the younger versions of film characters in such movies as Maleficent, The Legend of Tarzan, and Never Let Me Go, but Miss Peregrine allows the young actress to explore her own character role, providing to be likeable in the role of Emma and probably the most developed of all the Peculiar Children. In truth, beyond maybe Finlay MacMillan’s Enoch and Lauren McCrostie’s Olive, the rest of Peculiar Children, including Hayden Keeler-Stone as Horace, Raffiella Chapman as Claire, Georgia Pemberton as Fiona, Milo Parker as Hugh, Pixies Davis as Bronwyn, Cameron King as Millard, and Joseph and Thomas Odwell as the “masked twins”, are more delegated to the background, portrayed in the movie more for their “peculiar abilities” than being well-rounded side characters. As a side-note, I don’t know why they decided to switch the characters of Olive and Emma around in the movie (i.e. in the book Emma’s peculiarity is fire and Olive’s is air). Definitely baffles me.
In smaller roles is Terrence Stamp, who gives a fine performance as Jake elder grandfather Abraham, while Chris O’Dowd plays Franklin (Jake’s father), who does a serviceable job in the role. Truthfully, Burton seems a bit lost to what to do with the character of Franklin and sort of peters out towards the end. Rounding out the cast, making smaller appearances in the movies (cameo-like), are Judi Denchi as Miss Avocet (another Ymbryne like Miss Peregrine), Kim Dickens as Jake’s Mom, Allison Janney as Jake’s psychiatrist Dr. Golan, and Rupert Everett as a mysterious ornithologist.
Jake Portman discover the strange or rather the “Peculiar” world in the film adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Director Tim Burton’s newest film of Riggs’s popular YA / Teen novel is indeed a darkly-twisted “coming of age” feature that plays to the director’s zany moviemaking aspects and strengths (in his various traits). However, the film’s script, an overload of the narrative, and a disjointed third act makes the film from reaching a Burton throwback adventure of mischief, wonder, and a touch of darkly humor. Personally, it was an okay movie. Maybe I was hoping for more, but it was still entertaining to watch. As for my verdict, I would say its an iffy-choice movie, a spilt amongst fans of Burton’s films, Riggs’s novels, and causal moviegoers. Basically, some will like it, while others won’t (whether purists in regards to page to screen adaptations or in just movie escapism). While it’s still too early to decide if 20th Century Fox will move forward with Riggs’s next installment (Hollow City), but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is (at the very least) an imaginative and cinematic tale that’s full of Tim Burton’s signature touch of all things odd, strange, and…. peculiar.
3.5 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice)
Released On: September 30th, 2016
Reviewed On: October 1st, 2016
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril