Movie Review: “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Ella Purnell, Terrence Stamp, Judi Dench, Chris O’Dowd
Tim Burton

Author Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is right up director Tim Burton‘s alley. Riggs’ story is about a loner trying to find his place in the world – a story that the filmmaker behind “Edward Scissorhands,” “Big Fish” and “Ed Wood” is certainly no stranger to. It should come as no surprise, then, that Burton works up some small, charming wonders with this heartfelt piece of spectacle.

Jake’s (Asa Butterfield) grandfather, Abraham Portman (Terence Stamp), was a great man – an adventurer and soldier who battled fantastical beasts. These stories, according to Jake’s dad (Chris O’Dowd) and everyone else at school, were nothing but fairytales and lies, so Jake stopped believing they were real a long time ago. One night, the teenager goes to visit his grandfather and discovers his body outside the house with his eyes removed. Although everyone tells Jake that he’s crazy for supposedly seeing the mystery man and beast that ripped out his grandfather’s eyes, he wants answers. Remembering the stories his grandfather told him, Jake goes searching for Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green) and her orphanage for peculiar children in Wales, where he uncovers a “loop” created by Miss Peregrine that allows her and the children to live the same day in the 1940s over and over again. Later on, a threatening figure played by Samuel L. Jackson enters the picture, but up until then, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is a character-driven tale with a nicely intimate scope.

It takes well over an hour before we learn much about the villain Barron (Jackson) and his plans. The first half of the movie is mostly setup, which in this case, works in the film’s favor. There’s plenty of exposition and world building, but rarely is it any dull. There’s not much plot momentum, but “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” doesn’t need it. The world and characters are spectacle enough. When Miss Peregrine explains how the loop works – how her and the children are able to remain in the 1940s and never age – it’s entertaining because the characters are endlessly fascinating. The more we learn about their powers, their home and their bonds to one another, the better.

Screenwriter Jane Goldman takes time establishing the world and ensemble, making the emotional payoff – a surprisingly emotional phone call – in the third act truly land. By the time the action starts, which is when the film runs into some trouble, we’re completely invested in Jake, Miss Peregrine and the girl who once loved Jake’s grandfather, Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), who can also float and control air. The movie mostly belongs to those three, but there’s enough substance to the supporting characters – children who all have their own unique traits and personalities, which see some action in the third act.

Shooting action has never been Tim Burton’s strong suit. His films typically have an identifiable atmosphere and aesthetic, but his set pieces tend to have less personality. Watching the characters fight isn’t as cinematic or as interesting as them encountering or discovering a new world. The third act battle, which does have some fun and playful Burton moments, just leaves a lot to be desired. The camera is stiff during these sequences, rarely moving or creating a sense of urgency.

The third act of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is too routine for this story. The characters we like and believe in start to go through the motions, battling threats that are serviceable enough but not as spectacular or as visually interesting as the film’s young heroes. Miss Peregrine and her family are winning, charming characters – a likable group that Burton and Goldman truly invest time in exploring. There’s a lovely little moment between Miss Peregrine and one of the children, who suffered an unfortunate fate, that might have been a deleted scene in another movie, but it’s the kind of sincere, welcomed character beat that helps strengthen “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’s” kind heart.