Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children seems tailor-made for Tim Burton, presenting a YA playground of the fantastical and whimsically odd. The Burton of yesterday would’ve swan-dived into the material. The Burton of today can only summon a modicum of interest.
Growing up, Jake (Asa Butterfield) developed a tight bond with his grandfather, Abraham (Terence Stamp), enjoying his bedtime stories about a home for children with unique abilities, run by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green).
Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
The Tim Burton of yesterday would have swan-dived into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The Tim Burton of today can barely summon the interest.
When Abraham is killed by unseen forces in Florida, Jake is determined to discover if the tales were true, joining his distracted father Franklin (Chris O’Dowd, delivering a shockingly bad America accent) on a trip to Wales.
Locating a bombed out shell of a building, Jake is soon confronted by Emma (Ella Purnell), a special girl with aerokinetic powers who’s willing to bring the confused boy to meet Miss Peregrine in the year 1943.
Learning about time loops and Miss Peregrine’s position as a witch-like Ymbryne, Jake greets the rest of the “Peculiars,” including strong girl Bronwyn (Pixies Davies), pyrokinetic Olive (Lauren McCrostie), and Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), who can resurrect the dead.
Threats soon arrive in the form of monstrous Hollowgasts and Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), leader of the Wights, who hunt Peculiars for their special powers.
While nothing in Jane Goldman’s screenplay (an adaptation of the Ransom Riggs book) is simple, Miss Peregrine starts off with attainable goals, and the Peculiars are the stars of the show, with traditional Burton-esque ornamentation, emerging as a kind of X-Men squad, only they’re endowed with oddball abilities, such as the power to project dreams and grow enormous produce. One little girl has a second face on the back of her head.
Burton couldn’t find more appropriate material, and time at the home with the children is amusing, watching Jake settle in with his new friends, which sparks tensions, romantic and otherwise (the young actors are terrific, and blessed with fascinating faces).
However, Miss Peregrine doesn’t remain in one place for long. Tasked with explaining an entire universe built on time loops, Hollowgasts, and Wights, the weight of exposition soon suffocates the movie, transforming it into a game of tell instead of show. What begins with atmosphere and enticing ambiguity soon devolves into character monologues, leaving the second half mechanical as plot invades what was once a film devoted to discovery.
Burton doesn’t handle the shift well, losing control of the movie as it lumbers to a close. For a film about strange encounters, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children becomes awfully conventional in its final act, assuming the role of a YA adaptation that’s dulled by the demands of reader expectation. Burton tries to pack it all in, but his heart doesn’t seem invested in the production.