Hot Take: Unmistakably Tim Burton. Too bad it’s handcuffed with an overstuffed story and Asa Butterfield who is usually brilliant but peculiarly vacant in the lead role.
Second only to the reboot/remake phenomenon is the YA franchise-starter. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, based on the début novel from Ransom Riggs that spawned two sequels, looks to be a film that will follow in its source’s footsteps. It’s the nature of the movie business right now. It’s hard to argue with the approach as even when the results are terrible (*COUGH* The Divergent Series *COUGH*), the third movie in the series somehow yanked in $180 million worldwide. That’s not good considering the film’s $110 million budget but it isn’t a crippling result. So, here’s yet another attempt to launch a franchise and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is helped by the presence of a rather peculiar filmmaker as Tim Burton directs the first installment.
Thanks to Burton, the film draws a different audience outside of those who helped the first novel climb the New York Times Best Sellers list for children’s chapter books since Burton has his own following thanks to an illustrious career of strange cinematic happenings. It’s sort of the perfect marriage of style and source and it’s hard to imagine there were many names ahead of Burton when the thought of converting the novel to the big screen came about. Burton’s touch is evident on the film and he pulls some of his old tricks that might look familiar from Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. There’s a grotesque element to his peculiar style and it’s once again present in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
What is disappointing about the film is in its casting of Asa Butterfield as the star. Typically, Butterfield is amazing so you can’t fault the powers that be for selecting him to play Jake. However, his rather hollow performance takes a back seat to a number of other actors who all outshine him. Eva Green, in particular, as the titular Miss Peregrine stands out but has a limited role. Ella Purnell as Emma, one of Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children, turns in a captivating performance albeit slightly disturbing when given any serious thought. From all inferences, Emma was the love interest of the child version of Jake’s grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) but has sworn off love due to the circumstances of their parting. Jake’s arrival has sparked something in Emma and the two seem destined for romance… like I said, kind of disturbing.
Once all of the peculiarities of the children are introduced, the film itself fails to find a coherent voice. There’s some pretty spectacular imagery but the plot takes a lot of familiar turns and often never achieves magical status despite its wealth of magical and mysterious characters. The moments that make the movie work the best all have a recycled feel and Burton never quite reaches previous heights in capturing the imagination.
So, while Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has its moments, there are more hits than misses and that makes any movie over 2 hours long feel like a grind. With a budget of $110 million and a decent but unspectacular start at the box office, it is uncertain how far this YA franchise will go. If it takes the novel approach, there might be 2 more trips into this fantasy world. If so, let’s hope the next trip has a little more magic and relies less on spectacle.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Peculiar Children
As with any franchise starter, the introduction of the plethora of characters that inhabit the world of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was the best aspect of the film. Ella Purnell as Emma was the highlight but the rest of the children were all unique and the combination of the novel and Burton’s touch was a winning one.
- The Burton Touch
There’s just something about a Tim Burton movie that makes it truly unique. This was by no means his best work but it was still a treat to have him captain the journey.
- Samuel L. Jackson
Is there ever a time where the addition of Jackson to a movie isn’t welcome? No need to answer.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
In his burgeoning career, Butterfield’s turn as Jake feels like a minor misstep. He should be a as unique as the rest of the Peculiar Children but there’s something missing here. Maybe it’s emotion. Maybe it’s more.
- The Long Way Home
The journey felt a little overstuffed and there were times where losing interest is a definite possibility. While it is, of course, a franchise starter, the length of the movie could actually contribute to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children being a franchise non-starter.