MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN Review

Yes, Miss. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is one of those young adult adaptations where a seemingly normal kid who possesses zero self-confidence comes to learn that he's special in some capacity. That he is in fact "the chosen one" and that without his presence an evil plan couldn't possibly be thwarted. Director Tim Burton's (Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) adaptation of author Ransom Riggs' best-selling novel is indeed that type of movie and there is no eluding those comparisons. What allows this seeming cookie-cutter product to come off a different conveyor belt than some of its peers though is the level of uniqueness with which it is operating in. Riggs' novel plays by the conventions of the genre, sure, but there are so many fresh and interesting ideas brought to the table that it is easy to see past the rather standard narrative beats. It is all about the journey rather than the destination, right? If one has little trouble buying into that saying than they should have no trouble finding a point in which they can immerse themselves in the world of Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her peculiars. While I can admit to the fact the adaptation (penned by Jane Goldman of Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsman fame) has a few shortcomings in not giving a few of its exceptionally talented cast members enough to do while sporting other scenes in which the exposition is far too glaring the overall product we are delivered is one of wonder and curiosity. I can only imagine going into the film having not read the source material that the plot could come off somewhat convoluted-especially in the obligatory action-heavy third act-but more times than not Goldman finds interesting ways to speak around the necessities of the plot which are only aided by the visual flair of Burton who finds himself firmly in his own wheelhouse with this world. From the overly dark and dreary opening credits sequence to the way in which it cuts abruptly to sunny Florida where Burton once again chastises the slums of suburbia it is clear Burton is back in a field where he feels his creative juices are free to flow. Essentially-the guy can do whatever he chooses and it will likely work in this alternate reality where what we come to be treated to is a fully realized world with special powers giving way to numerous adventures that is only halted from time to time by the not fully realized characters that populate it.

Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and Jacob (Asa Butterfield) converse with one of the Peculiars.
We are first introduced to Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield) as he currently works at a grocery store putting together the displays for adult diapers. The actions of his peers suggest he isn't well-known in school or that he has too many friends, but thoughts of such teenage angst disappear the moment Jacob receives a call from his grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp), who sounds as if he's in some kind of trouble. Jacob rushes to his house, but the appearance of a break-in is immediately apparent. Bothered by sightings of men with glowing eyes and monsters as big as the trees that line the forest behind his grandfather's house Jacob eventually comes across the body of Abe who seems to have suffered a vicious attack; his eyes ripped from his skull. Sulking in the wake of his grandfather's death Jacob's parents (Chris O'Dowd and Kim Dickens) place their son in therapy with the trusted Dr. Golan (Allison Janney) who they hope might convince Jacob that his visions of strange men and monsters are simply side effects of the trauma he experienced upon discovering his grandfather's body. As Jacob becomes more and more distant from this key death in his life he can't help but to be reminded by Abe's final words to him. Instructions that warn of impending doom and that tell him to, "Listen to the bird!" Jacob is reminded of stories Abe told him as a child-about a place he once belonged to on an island in Wales known as Cairnholm. Jacob remembers these stories and becomes convinced he must visit the fictional Cairnholm after finding a post card to his grandfather from the fabled headmistress, Miss Peregrine, which is dated more recently than Jacob ever expected to see. Convincing his parents and Dr. Golan that a trip to Cairnholm would be in his best interest Jacob and his father, Franklin, set sail for the gloomy and rather bleak island where it doesn't take Jacob long to uncover the mystery of Miss Peregrine and her different world and different time that harvests her titular home for peculiar children. Of course, the mysteries and danger don't stop there for as Jacob gets to know the residents of this magical place more and his relationships deepen, with Emma (Ella Purnell) in particular, he also comes to learn of his own peculiarities and how he must use them to save his new friends from a group of powerful enemies seeking the peculiars.

With as large a cast of characters as Burton is lent to deal with in this material it's understandable that Goldman has condensed a few and eliminated others (though casting Kim Dickens in such a minor role should be a sin). The one constant shortcoming that kept bothering me throughout though, was that there still didn't seem to be enough on the screen for viewers to invest in, character-wise, outside of Jacob. And though Butterfield is a more than capable talent who displays a knack for effortlessly carrying such a large weight on his narrow shoulders he isn't exactly the most compelling of protagonists. It is understood that Jacob is more or less intended to be something of a loser who travels the arc of finding his courage and his purpose, but while Butterfield plays to those transitions they aren't wholly believable. That isn't to say the film falls apart because of this lack of belief in our heroes ability, but it goes without saying that it's a good thing he has a fair amount of featured support. Outside of Emma, who is lighter than air, we have Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) who can bring inanimate objects to life, Olive (Lauren McCrostie) who can set things aflame with just a touch, Millard (Cameron King) the invisible boy, Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) who can project his dreams via his eyes, Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) who can control and manipulate plant life, Hugh (Milo Parker) whose body is filled with bees, the twins (Joseph and Thomas Odwell) who can turn anyone to stone who they meet eye to eye, Claire (Raffiella Chapman) who has an extra mouth in the back of her head filled with sharp teeth, and Bronwyn (Pixie Davies) who has the strength of ten men. With that type of sprawling cast on top of Green's critically important Miss Peregrine as well as the number of antagonists and extraneous characters that factor into the narrative in order to make some type of sense to the uninitiated it is easy to see why some characters are short-changed and why others seem to only exist because their powers are convenient for the sake of the plot, but what is more telling than anything is that Burton, while not necessarily carving out a place for each of his characters, seems to understand the central conflict of each of their plights and presents the aura of that via their contributions to the overarching plot and/or their resistance to it. They are trapped, they are somber. They don't want to be saved as much as they want change. Something new. That is what the film is about at its heart and it captures that in its soul.

Jacob and Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell) form something of a romance in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
And so, I may be somewhat biased in this review as I did read Riggs' novel and was pretty excited to see what a director such as Burton, someone who seems to have been peddling his way through middling movies we would expect the director to make (and I can see how this film applies to that train of thought were I coming at the film from a different perspective), but with Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children one can't help but feel that Burton has found a place in which he can find comfort in trying out techniques he might not otherwise feel he has the space to. For instance, there are two sequences in Peregrine that feature some stop-motion animation (or at least CGI modeled after stop-motion) that hearkens back to old-school Burton and adds an unexpected flavor to the proceedings taking that aforementioned obligatory action-heavy third act and turning it into something of an unexpected spectacle in delightfully twisty and colorful ways. Burton, as suggested in the previous paragraph, nails the tone of the book with the cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis) perfectly encapsulating both the dreariness of Cairnholm in its present day while adding the brighter color scheme and more active atmosphere to highlight the sweeping green hills, the numerous sheep fields, and the quaint cottages that are still thriving in the peculiars time of 1943. In being both aesthetically pleasing and visually telling rather than simply feeling like a paint by numbers directorial effort from the auteur Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children turns out to be a solidly good, if not always enrapturing enough time. There are pacing issues as the film goes over the two-hour mark in unnecessary fashion and some of the logistics of the world don't make total sense, even to someone who had read the book, as the film draws to its conclusion. That the film captures the spirit of the novel and finds strength in the uniqueness of the factors that compile the standard story structure we have seen time and time again from these YA adaptations is what makes this ultimately feel like a win. It's odd because I can admit to the shortcomings and acknowledge the film isn't anywhere near perfect and isn't always compelling and could even be accurately described as boring in certain instances, but I had a solidly good time with the film. It took me to the world I wanted to visit and captured the characters and events in a faithful enough fashion that it's difficult to not feel satisfied.