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With Tim Burton's name above the title, I expected Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to be more eccentric, more offbeat, and more original. Don't get me wrong. It's peculiar, as the moniker suggests. But the structure, payoff and overall narrative beats tick too many boxes on the well-worn YA adaptation scorecard to truly have Miss Peregrine stand out as an innovative and groundbreaking work of family fantasy entertainment.
Adapted from a novel by Ransom Riggs -- and undoubtedly intended to launch a franchise, as the book has two sequels -- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children kicks off with a juicy little mystery. Jake (Asa Butterfield) arrives at his grandfather's house to find the abode in disarray. Grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp) is in the woods behind his home. He has been attacked, and he's mortally wounded. He whispers a dying warning to Jake, telling him to "go to the island," where The Bird will explain everything. And when Jake looks up, he spies what he thinks is a giant, whose eyes have been plucked from its skull.
Its sounds like the start of a fun and mysterious adventure, which is largely what Miss Peregrine delivers. Through some sketchy plotting, Jake is able to convince his ignorant father (Chris O'Down) to mount an expedition to Wales, where the boy starts to piece together clues on his grandfather's former exploits. It's here that Jake is approached by Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), Claire Densmore (Raffiella Chapman) and the denizens of Miss Peregrine's home.
Here's what you need to know about the home, without revealing too much about where Tim Burton eventually will take audiences. It's presided over by Miss Peregrine, who is played by the normally intimidating Eva Green as more of a gothic Mary Poppins, with a thin layer of mischief laid on top of her discipline. And the children in her care, as you can assume, have peculiar powers. Emma can control air, but that means she's forced to wear lead shoes, or else she'd simply float away. Claire's flowing blonde hair hides a mouth on the back of her neck that's filled with razor-sharp fangs. And the most macabre of the bunch, Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), is able to bring dead and inanimate objects back to life... often so he can have them engage in battles to the death.
Yes, Miss Peregrine's can be described as Tim Burton's X-Men, with Green standing in for Professor Xavier -- especially as the plot unfolds and the children need Jake's help to fend off a threat. But it also calls to mind Divergent, The Mortal Instruments, I Am Number Four and even The Hunger Games, where a normal kid (in this case, Butterfield's Jake) learns that he's actually gifted, then must join his new, powerful friends in defending a location he never knew existed. Miss Peregrine keeps her home inside of a 24 hour loop that takes place in 1943. At the end of the day, the house is destroyed by British bombers flying overhead. Peregrine's time device prevents the destruction from happening, and it also keeps them hidden from Barron, the evil entity who wants Peregrine's loop.
At least, that's what I think he wanted. Admittedly, I glazed over when the goofy exposition -- a pre-requisite for all of these debut YA stories -- overwhelmed some outstanding set decoration by the creepy and imaginative Burton. Sure, he's riffing on styles he explored in everything from Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride, and Big Fish to even Dark Shadows. But he's trying to dial it down to a kid-friendly level... something he manages to do until Barron and his cronies explain that they feed on the eyeballs of their victims. That was a bit too much for any stomach of any age.
Overall, the pace of Miss Peregrine's Home is methodical, though there's plenty of unusual visual treats to linger on as Burton sets up this irregular world. And younger audiences members -- by that, I mean teenagers, because kids could be frightened by even this watered-down Burton -- who haven't absorbed every YA movie adaptation under the sun won't mind the routine of the plotline. I only wish the bulk of the cast got the memo that only landed in Jackson's mailbox, informing him to chew some of the scenery and play all of this with a dash of over-the-top lunacy, because Miss Peregrine could have used a few more shots of adrenaline. Perhaps they'll figure that out by the sequel.