Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN | 2h 7min |PG-13
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson , Terence Stamp,Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Georgia Pemberton, Raffiella Chapman, Pixie Davies, Cameron King, Milo Parker
From the time Harry Potter selected his wand, many studios have circled the wagons to find the next great “brunette, white teen male goes on an extraordinary quest.” It’s a subset of the “chosen one” stories with which we’re all too familiar. While Disney had THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, 20th Century Fox has greenlit the majority of these kinds of films, producing and distributing everything from the PERCY JACKSON series to THE MAZE RUNNER franchise. They now have another equally as bland and uninteresting title added to that growing list, director Tim Burton’s MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN. Based on author Ransom Riggs’ first of three books, Burton’s fantastical magical adventure dips into quirk and gothic horror where it can in order to make it unique – only it lacks any sort of identity in its beauty.
From a young age, Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) was told many outlandish tales by his eccentric grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp) about the orphanage where he once lived. The home, on an island near Wales, was run by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, who’s this film’s Professor X) and populated by kids with quirky peculiarities (like the mutants in X-MEN). However, Abe’s tales have lost their luster over time, causing him to sound senile to Jake and his Dad (Chris O’Dowd). Jake’s world turns upside down when he discovers Abe, minus his eyes and close to death. With his last breath, Abe tasks Jake to find Miss Peregrine and the children to warn them of an impending monster uprising.
One of the major problems is there are too many peculiar children – and none of them are particularly interesting beyond their one-dimensional party tricks. Emma (Ella Purnell), whose peculiarity is controlling air, is given the most weight as she’s the love interest, providing the swoony tween romance angle. Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), who can re-animate dead and inanimate objects, is posed as Jake’s bad seed antagonist until he’s not. Then there are the rest of the supporting players, who are more set dressing than real characters: Olive (Lauren McCrostie), the girl with hot hands; Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone), who can project his dreams; Fiona (Georgia Pemberton), who can manipulate nature; Claire (Raffiella Chapman), who has a second mouth in the back of her head; Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), whose peculiarity is strength; Hugh (Milo Parker), who’s got a swarm of bees in his mouth; and Millard (Cameron King), who’s invisible. Even Miss Peregrine has a bunch of peculiarities – she’s an Ymbryne, a special kind of peculiar, who can not only morph into bird, but can also create and maintain time loops.
Sure, it’s a little fun to pick out callbacks to Burton’s earlier works: Topiaries that populate Peregrine’s garden are reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands’ creations. Emma’s blonde hair and big eyes are strikingly similar to Christina Ricci’s in SLEEPY HOLLOW or Jayne Wisener’s in SWEENEY TODD. Emma’s light blue dress is evocative of Alice’s in ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Father-son dynamics and divides, along with an elder’s tall tales, are lifted straight from BIG FISH. And the narrative climaxes at a carnival just like the one in FRANKENWEENIE where monsters terrorize carnival goers. Even Jake is similar to Charlie in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Does this mean it’s derivative ? Possibly, though it’s more of an amalgam of Burton’s canon than anything.
Jane Goldman’s script, which I assume takes its cues from the book, over-explains everything. It plays like a lecture. It’s a seemingly endless cycle of expository speech dump, followed by generic otherworldly action, followed by some more exposition, followed by more otherworldly action, and then another explanation. It’s two solid hours of this movie explaining itself to the audience, with barely any fun in between. Humor is scarce. The therapist in Florida joke is the sole source of funny.
Another problem is pacing. It takes about an hour before the main conflict is even mentioned. I thought it would be that someone steals Peregrine’s magic gold pocket watch, but no. Thematic ties about the futility of war and the preciousness of time fall flat. Similar commentary on abnormalities is made more strongly in the X-MEN movies. The time-loop logic gets far too complex for its own good. By the 90 minute mark, it’s hard to track – even though, yes, they explain it. You’re just too beaten down to even listen at that point, and yet there’s still 30 minutes to go. Also, if Emma can manipulate air (and float like a balloon) and Fiona can manipulate nature, shouldn’t they have been able to stop the Nazis from bombing their home?
Nevertheless, MISS PEREGRINE’S does some good things. Green is always a delight to watch play a capable badass. She’s an assured performer, taking command of the screen, pulling our focus into her perpetually kohl-rimmed eyes. That is if you can take your eyes off of her hairdo, streaked navy blue, like a coiffed confection. And Rupert Everett is wonderful, if not a tad under-utilized, as an ornithologist Jake and his father run into on the beach.
Most importantly, I believe this is a gateway movie. Younger audiences may discover Ray Harryhausen’s JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS skeleton fight after seeing Enoch’s skeleton army fight on the pier. They might even delve into the Quay Brothers’ works. It could launch them into watching Burton’s other films – or genres that inspired the filmmaker. While the hollowgasts are clearly “slenderman,” there are probably a handful of 50’s B-movies to comb over, picking out Burton’s visual inspirations for the white-eyed wights.
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN opens on September 30.