“Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children”
I had a weird dream earlier this year. For some reason, I was David Schrinkelberry III, executive for 20th Century Fox. Without warning, Tim Burton barges into my office. “I have a billion-dollar idea,” Burton tells me. “So, you know how Bryan Singer has all those X-Men movies? I’d like to do something like that except instead of all the actors being British, the mutants will actually be Welsh. These children are being protected by this secret society inside this old house in a time loop from these rogue mutants led by Samuel L. Jackson. I want to add in an element of one of my fan favorites, Big Fish, by having the protagonist hear stories from his grandfather, who was one of those children, but is discouraged by his father from believing him. Did I mention it’s based on a YA novel?” Needless to say, “I” gave him the money.
That’s the appeal of Tim Burton: the mainstreaming of “the weird” for 30 years. Pee-Wee Herman, Edward Scissorhands, Ichabod Crane, Sweeney Todd, Burton’s done wonders for all those characters over the years. And that’s the ultimate tragedy in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: there is not one single character that is one-tenth as interesting any of those people. Jake is the kind of quiet hero that Asa Butterfield excels at playing, but even a young Daniel Day-Lewis would have trouble making this lowly character pop off the screen. He’s a little too passive at times and, let’s face it, his “peculiarity” is quite lame. Eva Green gets the Helena Bonham-Carter role as the titular caretaker. Peregrine’s most interesting characteristics are that she can turn into a bird and she’s a decent shot with a crossbow. And who doesn’t love Samuel L. Jackson as a villain? I have some bad news: he’s wasted here. First, Mr. Barron appears in the second scene for about one second then doesn’t return until a flashback about an hour later. Second, his character’s initial motivations are breezed through as quickly as possible to attempt to shove the story forward.
And that’s the gist of the main problem with Miss Peregrine. It’s a glacially paced supposed “kid’s movie.” The first half is all setup with details upon details about the house, the children and Jake’s family. I am a firm believer in “show don’t tell” rule with movies but Jane Goldman’s (Kingsman: The Secret Service) adaptation of the Ransom Riggs novel does one thing at a time and spends way too long with each one. The second half tries to tell a moderately fun 100 minute fantasy-action story in 65 minutes. There’s easily 20 minutes sitting on the cutting room floor. You don’t hire Judy Dench for a 6 minute cameo these days. Luckily, the movie’s look, led by Colleen Atwood’s costumes, will keep those interested in that aspect of cinema awake until the story kicks into gear. The music, usually a high point of Burton’s movies, suffers greatly from the completely forgettable, wannabe Danny Elfman score by Mike Higham and Matthew Margeson.
There’s also a few disturbing moments for a movie that wants to be for eight year olds. First, one of the titular children has the ability to implant hearts into lifeless thing to reanimate them. Burton decides the best way to introduce us to this character is to have him bring a baby doll and a crab to life to have them duke it out to a violent end. Second, the villain’s plan to become human again involves killing peculiar children and feasting on their eyeballs. Who says there are no movies for families anymore?
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a slog with too much to set up and sometimes the setups are not appropriate for the target audience. Tim Burton’s movies with his style should be fun and gorgeous and full of fascinating characters. That’s not the case here, most of the time.
2 out of 5