Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Rating

Director

Tim Burton

Screenplay

Jane Goldman (Novel: Ransom Riggs)

Length

127 min.

Starring

Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O’Dowd, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Georgia Pemberton, Milo Parker, Raffiella Chapman, Pixie Davies

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril

Original Preview

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Soundtrack

Poster

Source Material

Review

Certain directors have a style that is unmistakable. Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, and Stanley Kubrick each have visual and thematic aesthetics that anyone familiar with their earlier work can immediately pick up on in their later efforts. Tim Burton is another such director. Every production still and advertisement associated with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children exemplified that, but what also manifested itself in the trailers and in the final product, was an obsessive adherence to that style in disservice to the narrative.

Based on a children’s novel by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine is the story of a young boy, thought to be your stereotypical awkward teenager, who discovers that his grandfather’s bizarre stories were true and that he is part of a world that involves time travel, mutant abilities, and coming-of-age angst. As Jake (Asa Butterfield) explores the home of Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) herself, he discovers there are nefarious forces at work that may prove fatal to the denizens of her home.

Situated within a Time Loop controlled by Miss Peregrine and other Peculiars, their own term, like herself, the home is a safe space for its young inhabitants. Each is as distinct as their own abilities. Emma (Ella Purnell) is lighter than air and can exhale vast amounts of wind; Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) can animate automatons and corpses and control their actions; Olive (Lauren McCrostie) can ignite objects with the touch of her hands; Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) can show his dreams to everyone like a film projector; Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) can make plants grow with her mind; and others populate the aged home they share.

There’s also a prominent list of big name (and smaller name) actors giving the film a certain level of heft. Apart from Green who is wonderful in her role, you have Judi Dench as another caretaker, Rupert Everett as an ornithologist, Allison Janney as Jake’s therapist, Chris O’Dowd as Jake’s father, Terence Stamp as his grandfather, and Samuel L. Jackson as the film’s chief villain. Disappointingly, none of them breakout by doing more than their absolute most mediocre with O’Dowd performing considerably less impressively than any other time in his career.

This type of concept fits perfectly into Burton’s visual style. A World War II-era group of British teens located on an island off of Wales. What could be more fitting? His production designer (Gavin Bocquet) and costume designer (Colleen Atwood) are given plenty of opportunities to explore the world and every gorgeous detail is rendered wonderfully. However, for a director who was (and in some ways still is) one of the most creative and inventive artists working in the business, there’s something inconsequential and bland about this latest film. It’s a film that tries desperately to evoke the magical anti-realism of his prior works without digging into the characters as fully as he might have done more than two decades ago. It is nice, though, to see him work with people other than Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

If you had asked most audiences and critics in 1985 if Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure director Burton would be one of the most recognized and prominent directors in film history, most of them would have laughed. 30 years later, he’s still going strong enthralling audiences with bold visuals, but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is further proof that one of the greats is just treading water these days.

For over a decade, Burton has been on the withering edge of his own empire. Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were all visually daring, but emotionally vacant. Burton was throwing all of his own Burton-esque elements he could in, but forgetting why we fell in love with him with the likes of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Batman. As a visionary, someone who took familiar concepts and became daring and inventive with them, his list of failures and modestly entertaining, but inadequate, films is now longer than his list of successes, with Big Fish and Frankenweenie his only significant accomplishments in the last twenty years.

With the human interactions stronger even if rudimentary, the actors more prepared even if less impressive than they could be, and the inventiveness he once regularly put on display still largely there, the film is almost, but not quite, a return to form for him. The problem is that his overuse of old techniques, such as the fighting baby dolls, doesn’t embellish the story in any meaningful way. That he’s more concerned about creating an environment than worrying about what he’s putting into it is disconcerting. There were several items that would bug most observant viewers, but I would hope that much of those issues were a result of an inaccurate adaptation. Ultimately the backbone of the source material was likely stronger than the resulting production could ever have been.

Relying on what’s worked in the past may solidify the brand for the audience, but by failing to carve new paths and explore new ideas in ways that are similar, but distinct, Burton will continue to struggle to impress audiences with each new film. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children gives viewers hope that he is moving in the right direction, but it is too early to know whether his return to form is an anomaly or a trend.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Production Design, Costume Design

Review Written

October 12, 2016

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