Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016) Review
Miss Peregrine’s Extremely Long Title for a YA Adaptation is the latest in visionary director Tim Burton’s --
-- Let’s be honest. Tim Burton hasn’t been “visionary” for the better part of 20 years, considering most of the his films have looked the pretty much the same without the added benefit of being actually good as he and his onscreen wife Johnny Depp have spent most of the last generation indulging each other’s worst instincts to make multicolored mediocrity.
Their best movie together: Ed Wood.
Their last above average movie: Sleepy Hollow. Way back in the late 90s.
Every Depp/Burton collaboration after that has been pretty much like watching flies buzz around a starving African kid, from Depp’s painful-to-watch overacting in Mad Hatter (aka Alice In Wonderland) to whatever the hell Dark Shadows tried to be, it was time they went the Jolie-Pitt way and amicably divorce. The writing was on the wall.
December 2014. Big Eyes turns out to be the best Burton movie in 20 years as there’s no Depp, and it doesn’t look like any Burton film has in recent years, which is a very, very good thing. Finally, Tim Burton gets out of neutral gear.
Miss Peregrine, Deppless Burton’s latest, is a feast for the eyes, even if the screen story lacks the sense of urgency of the novels. Having read the 3 Peculiar novels years ago, I was looking forward to the adaptations, as they were more akin to the good (later) Harry Potter novels than the vanilla (earlier) novels.
As you watch Peregrine, you get the essence of the novels, even if they are watered down for family consumption.
Peregrine opens with Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield, wide-eyed and full of questions which require expository answers) living an average life as all the kids in these movies seem to. He doesn’t have any friends, his clueless parents (Chris O’ Dowd and Kim Dickens) just don’t understand him.
Instead of hanging out with girls and guys his own age, he likes to hang out with old men, specifically his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp). Boys hanging out with old men can only end well. Look what it did for the kids in Spotlight and Stranger Things.
Jake has spent most of his life with Abe as Abe regales him with fantastic stories of his past. Or are they?
One night, after work Jake gets a frantic call from Abe. Jake gets a ride to Abe’s house, almost runs over a spectral Samuel L. Jackson, and finds Abe dead with his eyes sucked out.
Jake notices some kind of creature hanging outside the house. Could this be the creature that killed his grandfather? Yes. Yes it is. And only he can see it/speak parseltongue.
No one believes Jake when he says that Abe was killed by this creature. He’s forced to see a psychiatrist (Allison Janney), and as a form of “closure” gets to go with his neglectful father to Wales, as that was where Abe spent most of his childhood, specifically a children’s home, that Abe abruptly left for reasons unknown but that will definitely be known by the end of the movie.
After much exposition, Jacob finally finds the home, which turns out to be a home for children that are peculiar run by Miss Peregrine…and that he’s a wizard with a scar on his forehead.
For reasons that the movie better explains than I could (not really, I just don’t feel like getting into it), Jake finds himself stuck in 1943, with Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, fully clothed this time) and the rest of the peculiar children.
They include little strong girl, little plant girl, monocle projection boy, teeth girl, morose Irish boy, fire girl, creepy twins, and Emma (Ella Purnell), she’s lighter than air and floats if she doesn’t wear her lead shoes. She realizes that Jake is peculiar, even if he doesn’t see it himself
She also used to be in love with Abe when he was younger and now finds herself falling for his grandson Jake.
Yeah, this is gross like Captain America making out with Peggy Carter and her niece.
It turns out that whatever killed Abe is now gunning for Jake and may have found the loop (in the parlance of the movie- a “loop” is a period of time running over and over, in this case a specific day) which could lead it to the rest of the Peculiar Children. And since that “It” has taken the form of Samuel L Jackson, it’s safe to say that he’s had it with these motherfluffin Jakes on this mother*cking plane…of existence.
What works with Miss Peregrine Get A Shorter Title
- A Tim Burton Film that doesn’t look like your typical Tim Burton film. Thanks to Production Designer Gavin Bocquet Peregrine look is its biggest plus, more often than not covering some of the narrative’s more noticeable hiccups. From the actual Home For Peculiar Children, and especially the interior of a sunken ship, this is why you see movies on the big screen
- Ella Purnell gives the only memorable performance of the movie as the light-headed and light-everything’d Emma. Playing a character much older than her looks, she conveys a world-weariness beyond her years and the movie soars whenever she’s onscreen. If only the rest of the movie were as good as Purnell, you’d see something truly, peculiarly, magical.
- That Florence and the Machine Song “Wish you were Here” because it’s Florence and the Machine
What Doesn’t Work With Miss Peregrine and Some Weird Kids
- It’s the unenviable task of screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kick-Ass) to whittle Ransom Riggs’ Pecualiar universe into something a broad audience could digest. Learning terms like “Loop”, “Hollowgast”, and “Ymbrine” so the audience can follow without it feeling too exposition-y. It’s mostly successful, and when it’s not it leads to a lot of dead space in the first act.
- To that effect it’s like last Summer’s Spielberg flop The BFG, in that it tests your patience, but you’re more or less rewarded if you stick it through
- The movie stops whenever Jake is not at the home. The domestic scenes with dad feel forced and only left off the cutting room floor for the sake of comparison. You can tell the Burton’s heart isn’t in these scenes. Neither are the audiences.
- In trying to make the film palatable to mainstream audiences, a lot of the novel’s darkness is jettisoned. Trying to appeal to the ‘Y’ in YA. What remains isn’t a bad film, but it could have been much better. If the sequels are greenlit, here’s hoping for more of the ‘A’.
Tim Burton stays on the correct Depp-less track with Peculiar. A palatable YA film that delivers with lowered expectations.