Life can be harsh when you are a peculiar child, but self-acceptance is what makes you stronger. Despite a rather banal message and a confusing storyline, the last Tim Burton is a feast for the eyes.
Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield), is a banal teenager who leads a boring life in a suburb of Florida. Since his childhood, he has listened to the fantasized stories about World War II of his Polish grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp), who was sent to live on a Welsh Island to flee the menace of Nazi persecution. But these stories no longer sound like tales the day Jake receives a distress call from his grandfather. He then discovers clues about a dark truth that spans different places and times. Following his elder’s last wishes, he goes to the very island and finds a magical place known as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But mystery and danger deepen as he gets to know the residents and finds out about their special abilities and their powerful enemies. From that moment on, Jake must learn his own peculiarity and accept it in order to protect his new friends.
Movie Night at Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Tim Burton returns on familiar territory with the adaptation of American author Ransom Riggs’s debut novel, which could have been written for him. As Burton decided to make only one film out of a story that took three books to be told (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City and Library of Souls), choices had to be made but not always for the best. Although the atmosphere of the book could have allowed Burton to show the gleefully twisted greatness of his early work such as Beetlejuice or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children offers a superficially odd universe in spite of some glimpses of delightful and frightening imagery. The filmmaker might have been too ambitious on this one. The many flashbacks, time loops and temporal incoherencies put the storyline at a disadvantage. Moreover, the implied reflection about the persecution of Jews and references to World War II adds some unwelcome depth to the already confusing plot.
The fantasy world in which the story is set enables spectacular visual effects, especially with garments. The outstanding costumes and the attention to details beautifully convey the spooky, eerie feeling that is so appreciated in Burton’s productions. But all those aesthetic elements are just smoke and mirrors to hide the disconcerting storyline. The confusion might find its origins in the condensed version of the narrative that includes too many places, too many eras and too many characters in two hours. The decision to keep all the children mentioned in the books makes it difficult to construct real backgrounds for each of them. That is why the peculiar children are just elements of the setting even if they are supposed to be the main protagonists of the story. The many characters stand as strong personae but are not as exploited as they could have been, apart from Eva green’s character. Miss Peregrine is the real surprise of the movie. Eva Green perfectly embodies the charismatic and fascinating vampire-like housekeeper.
Eva Green as Miss Peregrine and her lining, a peregrine falcon.
In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Burton operates his magic through his recognizable aesthetic touch. He knows how to play with our senses and uses colors and sounds wisely. Mainly shot outside in stunning and eye-appealing scenery, the film benefits from the beautifully recreated gothic architecture of the orphanage and the wild green Welsh landscape that contrasts with the stereotypical view of the American suburb. The soundtrack plays a key role as it helps to understand the confusing plot and to distinguish the different times and places that alternate throughout the movie. Indeed, the contrasting colors set two opposite atmospheres, and specific sound effects mark the change. Unusually, though, the composer of this stunning musical score is not Danny Elfman (who worked with Burton on almost all his films), but Mike Higham and Matthew Margeson.
As the filmmaker has gained a new public with his most recent productions (Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland for instance), early fans would find his well-known gothic style a little bit faded, watered down. Burton seems to make his dark and chaotic mind more accessible to seduce a larger audience. He becomes increasingly predictable, less pessimistic, tragic, and sarcastic. Burton settles for repeating tricks from his greatest successes—the “peculiar child” as a hero in Edward Scissorhands, the magical world in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, the strange creatures in Mars Attack, and even the fairy tale coming true in Big Fish—, hiding cameos and direct references to his previous creations. Announced by some as the triumphant return of the filmmaker, this long-expected book adaptation received mixed reactions. After a few disappointments, such as Big Eyes and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it is more of a toned-down version of his well-known aesthetic touch that Tim Burton presents in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. And yet, despite a lack of surprises and originality, it will surely arouse nostalgia amongst longtime fans and provide a good introduction for those who must still discover the filmmaker’s universe.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, based upon a novel written by Ransom Riggs, screenplay by Jane Goldman, directed by Tim Burton, a 20th Century Fox production, running time 127 min.
Eva Green as Miss Peregrine
Asa Butterfield as Jake
Samuel L. Jackson as Barron
Judi Dench as Miss Avocet
Terence Stamp as Abraham ‘Abe’ Portman
Elle Purnell as Emma Bloom
Finlay MacMillan as Enoch O’Conner