Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (United States/United Kingdom, 2016)

September 29, 2016
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Poster

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, adapted from Ransom Riggs’ popular YA novel, offers a different flavor of teen-oriented fantasy. A mash-up of X-Men-influenced superhero material and more traditional fantasy elements (with time travel paradoxes thrown in for good measure), Miss Peregrine can at least make the claim of being unusual. Time Burton’s off-kilter direction adds a dash of the Grand Guignol to this already bizarre tale, complete with an homage to Ray Harryhausen. Overall, despite feeling a little long and suffering from a rushed ending, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fresh and engaging storybook adventure that should appeal to viewers both inside and out of the core demographic.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is sufficiently different from the countless dystopian YA adventures saturating the market that it may be able to escape the ignominious fate of anything not named The Hunger Games. And, recognizing that cliffhanger endings aren’t the best approach for a would-be franchise with no guarantee of continuing, screenwriter Jane Goldman has radically reworked the ending of Riggs’ book to provide a sense of closure while also allowing for future installments (if the box office performance warrants, which isn’t a sure thing). Admittedly, the final ten minutes (or so) are sloppy and rushed but they at least resolve most of the plot threads and give the illusion of a happy ending. Such was not the case with the book.

The movie’s premise hews close to the one established by Riggs. Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a 16-year old boy slogging his way through high school in Florida when an emergency call from his grandfather (Terence Stamp) exposes him to a shocking revelation: the bedtime stories of monsters, peculiars (people with strange abilities), and Miss Peregrine’s school are all true. His grandfather’s dying words propel him to take a trip to Wales where he inadvertently stumbles across a time loop. Transported to 1943, he discovers the school and several of the notable residents his grandfather described: blond Emma (Ella Purnell), whose affinity for air means that, if she’s not wearing her lead shoes, she will float away; red-headed Olive (Lauren McCrostie), whose hands burn with fire; dour Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), who can reanimate the dead; and, of course, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), whose abilities include warping time and transforming into a bird. Jake soon learns that all is not well in this supposedly safe bubble of time. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and his band of wights are seeking to find the school so they can devour the eyes of the occupants and, to aid in this aim, they bring several giant, horrific Hollows whose invisibility and ferocity make them difficult to overcome.

Burton adds his own stamp to the production by making the Hollows nightmare-worthy and by tipping his hat to Ray Harryhausen in a scene that features Sinbad-inspired skeletons engaged in combat with the larger creatures. There’s also a particularly eerie scene in which Jake and Emma have a romantic interlude in a sunken ship where the skeletons are still seated around dining tables (shades of Titanic). The “Burton magic”, which was largely absent in his previous directorial effort, Big Eyes, is back with a vengeance in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Burton has assembled an impressive cast, all of whom “do their thing”. Asa Butterfield, late of Hugo and Ender’s Game, has the right sensibility to play a socially awkward hero who finds a home amongst so many X-Men types. His chemistry with Ella Purnell is perfect for the YA genre - friendly, caring, and romantic with little or no sexual frisson. Eva Green is her usual weird, larger-than-life self (although nowhere near the levels of oddity she displayed in the Sin City or 300 sequels) and Samuel L. Jackson does a variation of his usual shtick, albeit adapted for a PG-13 audience. Screen legends Judi Dench and Terence Stamp have small-but-important roles.

The movie’s pacing sags a little toward the middle and the action sequence that forms the climax goes on for a little too long, although Burton’s injection of quasi-comedic elements into this apocalyptic segment is welcome. Personally, I preferred some of the smaller, quiet moments, especially those focused on Jake and Ella, who make a delightful couple. The scenes inside the school are the best the movie has to offer - it’s in those that the actors and the uniqueness of the underlying premise are allowed to shine. In the end, Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children can be applauded for telling an engaging stand-alone story while offering the possibility of additional adventures. I wouldn’t mind spending another semester with these characters.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (United States/United Kingdom, 2016)

Run Time: 2:07
U.S. Release Date: 2016-09-30
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Disturbing Images, Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1