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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children


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 and Pixie Davies.

Screenplay by Jane Goldman.

Directed by Tim Burton.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox Pictures.  127 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Director Tim Burton has been sort of flailing out there for a couple of decades now.  Surprisingly, for a man who is considered a master filmmaker, the evidence of his genius has been hard to come by.  It’s been 22 years since his last terrific film – the sadly overlooked and forgotten Ed Wood.

In all the years since then, Burton has only made one movie that comes close to being that good – the quirky art world biopic Big Eyes (which was also written by Ed Wood’s screenwriting team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who have since gone on to create The People vs. OJ Simpson) – and Big Eyes was very good, but far from perfect.

Other than that, Burton has pretty much wasted the last couple of decades making marginally okay adaptations of classic stories which have been told much better before.  Some of them have been fluke minor hits (Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish), more often they have been critical and box office disappointments (Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, Dark Shadows, Sweeney Todd, Mars Attacks! and many more…).

Burton’s career has been stultifying.  As stated above, his last good film was 22 years ago.  His last hit films were the two years before; Batman Returns and The Nightmare Before Christmas.  He no longer has the rep of an imaginative wunderkind, instead he’s starting to be looked at as an offbeat gun for hire.

In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Burton may have finally found the ideal project to resurrect his career.  Yes, this is an adaptation as well – based on Ransom Riggs’ popular young adult novel.  However, despite the book’s cult popularity, it is not exactly an iconic tale, so it does not bring as much audience baggage with it.  Also, Rigg’s book shares Burton’s own off-the-wall sensibility, a mixture of mysterious old-fashioned mystery and surreal fantasy.

It turns out to be his best film since Big Eyes, and more importantly his most imaginatively offbeat “Tim Burton” vision in decades.   Don’t get me wrong, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is far from perfect.  It does not live up to early Burton classics like Beetlejuice, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or Edward Scissorhands.  However, Peregrine is a hell of a lot of fun, the most fun Burton has shown us in years.

The film starts in the real world, before traveling to the more fantastical realms.  Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) is a normal loser teen, struggling in a dead-end job, having problems with his parents (Chris O’Dowd and Kim Dickens) and caring for his beloved grandfather (Terence Stamp), who is in the early phases of dementia.

One day, looking in on his desperate sounding grandpa, he finds the older man, dying after being attacked by an apparent monster.  With his dying breaths, Grandpa tells him his as to visit Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, a place he had lived years before and had told Jake stories about over the years.

Jake flies over to Wales with his dad to find the school, and through a series of magical and time changes he reaches the school – in the middle of World War II, soon after grandpa had originally left.  Apparently the school is on an ongoing time-loop, much like Groundhog Day they relive the same day over and over again, a day that ends with the home being bombed by Nazi airmen.

The children of the school all have secret powers and skills, which make them freaks to the world, so they hide out in their own world.  There is a girl who weighs so little she would float away without metal shoes, a boy who turns into fire, a boy who is invisible, two abnormally strong kids, a girl who control plants, a boy who can resurrect the dead, a boy who is made up of bees, etc.  They are watched over my the headmistress, whose skill is turning into a bird.

Jake is targeted by evil beings, who hope to use him to find the home and destroy the place, so that they can eat the children’s eyes.  (Don’t ask…)  Okay, truth is, the story doesn’t make sense a lot of the time, but it’s not really supposed to.  And the bad guys, particularly Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Barron, tend to be cartoonish and silly.

Still, what can I say?  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children works.  Good for Burton for getting at least part of his groove back.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: September 30, 2016.

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