I have yet to read Ransom Riggs’ YA novel from which this movie is adapted from. Hence, I came into this with no expectations whatsover concerning the narrative. So you won’t hear anything from me about any book to movie differences. But I’ve seen the book around and flipped through it on several occasions. And the spooky, vintage photographs are hard to miss. And from that I surmised that Tim Burton’s sensibilities would certainly fit Ransom Riggs’ to a tee, so color me interested.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) follows the story of an ordinary teenager named Jacob “Jake” Portman (Asa Butterfield) who upon witnessing a mysterious tragedy that has befallen his family, receives a trail of clues that leads him to a boarding school inhabited by children with special powers. He subsequently get sucked into an otherwordly adventure set in a different time, inhabited by murderous monsters and guardian shapeshifters. Sounds like a solid fantasy adventure story. And it is. But the chink in the armor lies in the characters themselves. For something called Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I expected, at least two things. A compelling Miss Peregrine, and an equally compelling squad of Peculiar Children. They got the first one right by casting Eva Green who has such a strong screen presence. She can ham it up, but she can also reign it in for a solid dramatic perfermance when necessary. But I cannot say the same for the ragtag of Peculiars. Character depth was compromised in lieu of the razzle dazzle of their respective powers. We know nothing of these kids, nothing beyond their peculiarities. And I wanted some convincing teen angst. Because imagine being stuck in a time loop, relieving the same day over and over again. These kids, they’re bound to become restless, and ask questions. Well, there is one particular scene where Emma (the girl who is lighter than air) declares the fact that people come and go, and yet she remains, but it felt more like a petulant outburst rather than emotional anguish. The other children seems equally content in their little loop. I imagine at least one of them might be curious about the outside world, and perhaps even ask if they can at least try to live outside the loop. Especially the bigger kids, and those whose peculiarities doesn not manifest in their physical appearance. I don’t know. I just wanted something, anything in the form of emotions from these characters. And the romance felt so ham-handledly stuffed into this story that doesn’t necessitate it in the first place. Romance is nice when you have well-developed characters that grow and interact earnestly, but when you don’t, the romance will end up forced and terribly annoying.
The villain, Mr. Barron, isn’t in good shape either. He seems to grow less sinister by the hour, and more stupid by the minute. Samuel L. Jackson does the best he could, I mean when is this guy ever not game? But I think the character is poorly written. His decisions and actions are completely un-villainous. It makes no sense. We’re supposed to laugh with him not at him. And by the time the great confrontation with this baddie happened, I thought, how the heck did this guy ever become a threat to a group of powerful Ymbrynes (shape shifting, time manipulating beings that are Miss Peregrine and her ilk.) and their respective superpowered moppets?
The plot’s framework is your basic good versus evil story, and they kind of take their time to set things up, with a lot of explanations about this time loop, and that time loop, this Ymbryne and that Ymbryne, and if they should do this, or that. It doesn’t derail the story a great deal, but sometimes it can become a slog. And really, there are some things that don’t need exposition.
But here’s the good news. There are some really stunning visuals and exciting action sequences. The re-animated skeleton fight scene was fun and funny. And any scene where Emma floats like a kite, looks absolutely dreamy and ethereal. And the air siphoning scene in a sunken ship was pretty amazing. There are a smattering of creepy visuals too, like straight out of an a-grade horror movie. And I think Tim Burton is pretty darned great to pull off these tonal shifts with ease. But what I love about it the most is that Tim Burton knows how to elicit that feeling of child-like wonder, and strangely enough…hope. Despite all my complaints, I felt nothing but warm feelings walking out of the theater. And for that I say this movie is good in my book.
There is this particular scene in the movie where we see a young Jake as an eager boy with eyes like saucers quipping: “I am going to be an explorer!” To which his father, sitting in front of the telly, flipping channels as if in a stupor, replies in the most disinterested tone possible: “You can’t buddy, because everything in the world has already been discovered.” But Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children intends to tell us otherwise. While it did not exactly provide a compelling argument for the matter, but still it got the message across. That the world is still very much a cabinet of curiosities. So wonder, wander and get your freak on!
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars