Tim Burton’s latest movie stars a band of peculiar kids. But is it winningly odd or bewilderingly strange?
First of all, I have to admit that I am a fan of Tim Burton and am always excited when a new movie of his is announced. Still, even I have to admit that the director has lost his way somewhat of late – while there are far worse films out there, it’s hard to argue that the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows didn’t have some glaring issues.
In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, however, it looked like Burton might have found a film that could set him back on track, so perfectly did the material on the page seem to suit him. As it is, Peregrine is better than most of his recent efforts, just not to the extent that you would hope.
Based on Ransom Riggs’ best-selling photonovel, the movie sees American teen Jacob Portman travel to a tiny Welsh island upon the dying wish of his grandfather. There he discovers a home for children with special abilities (called “peculiars”) trapped in a timeloop during 1943. The reason: they are being pursued by nightmarish monsters. Can Jacob embrace his own peculiarity and save them from the evil Hollowgast?
First of all, the movie is quite entertaining for its first half, as the plot builds nicely and we get the meat and drink of the premise – meeting kids who can control fire, air, plants, bees and even dead things. Burton gets the most out of his young actors (headed by Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell) and many of the star-studded adult cast shine. I will happily watch the brilliant Eva Green in anything and she is great value here as the titular mother bird of the children. Samuel L Jackson is also clearly having a ball, as he hams it up as the infant-eating villain Mr Barron.
It is in the movie’s second half in which things get out of hand. As the story races to its finale, it loses the pleasingly small scale quality of the opening and instead becomes a sort of X-Men Jr. Jane Goldman’s screenplay also struggles to keep the many ideas and concepts in check so that it is easy to get lost with all the time travel and unnecessarily complex backstory. The film’s plot about constantly repeating the past gives reviewers an easy dig at Burton’s own recurring style but actually Peregrine could have done with some more obvious directorial touches – that unique visual flavour that makes his best films pop.
On the whole, though, Miss Peregrine is a sufficiently diverting adventure if you want to lose yourself in a movie for a couple of hours. It is neither as messy as the director’s lesser films nor as stylish as his best. For whatever reason, it seems Burton’s indefinable Burton-ness – his own peculiarity, if you like – has disappeared for good.