Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is Burton’s Big Budget Fairytale.
Based on the novel by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the latest young adult book series being turned into a hopeful big-budget film franchise. 20th Century Fox purchased the rights to the series back in 2011 and have chosen Tim Burton to direct the first film in the series. The story follows a boy named Jacob (Asa Butterfield) who learns about the passing of his grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp). After learning the devasting news, Jacob and his father Franklin (Chris O’Dowd) travel to a mysterious island to help Jacob clear his head. It is on this very island where Jacob stumbles upon a portal known as a loop that transports him into another world that he never believed existed.
This other world was part of the stories that his grandfather told him as a child. It is the home of several peculiar children with unique abilities, and the leader of this home is Miss Peregrine played by Eva Green. As Jacob begins to investigate this world, he learns that he has the power to see monsters known as the Hallows. Now, Jacob must join forces with the others to save the world from the evil Hollows lead by Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson).
Tim Burton’s imagination is what inspired me to fall in love with film as a child. I was raised on Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Batman but it wasn’t until The Nightmare Before Christmas was released in 1993 that I knew that my dream in life was to watch films that inspired me. 23 years later, Tim Burton is still one of the few filmmakers that I go out of my way to see all of his films. I’ll be 100% honest, I didn’t know much about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children other than my wife telling me that it was a great book, and she was so excited that Burton was directing the film.
After seeing the film, I fully agree with my wife when she states that there is no other director besides Tim Burton who could have directed this film. This odd little story about these peculiar children is the perfect fit for Tim Burton’s imagination. He creates a visually stunning world that I can only assume Ransom Riggs is proud of. The attention to detail matches Burton’s earlier filmmaking and this gothic world perfectly fits his style. I love that you can see traces of Burton’s early work within certain scenes including remnants of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The story being told is not as simplistic as one would expect since the film is adapted from a young adult novel. There are multiple characters and stories going on all at once. This is not one of those films that will answer every single question but instead, leaves certain things open-ended which will be explored in later films. I appreciate films like this because it dares to be different in a world where everything big budget feels like more of the same. This isn’t anything like X-Men which I think many thought it would be. It’s much different than that and I am so happy that studios such as Fox are willing to take chances on adapting novels that don’t revolve around silly love triangles or teenagers fighting in a future society.
Asa Butterfield did a decent job playing Jacob. While I wasn’t blown away by his performance, I saw some potential there and am curious to see how Butterfield develops this character in the sequels. It wasn’t that I found him to be a miscast but rather that this role was a bit different for him compared to his previous roles. Butterfield is the lead character, so a lot of the film relies very heavily on his character and performance. You can tell that Butterfield tried but in certain scenes, his performance felt a bit wooden.
After seeing Eva Green in Sin City: A Dame to Die For and Dark Shadows, I was very worried about her playing Miss Peregrine. I am happy to report that Eva Green was the perfect choice for Miss Peregrine. I don’t think anyone else could play this role as well as she did. I love the way that she carried the role and loved all her costumes. The rest of the peculiar children were all well cast as well. I think among the children Ella Purnell as Emma was the standout. She served as the perfect female apprentice to Jacob. Purnell held her own on-screen and even outshined Butterfield at times. It also needs to be addressed that she looks the part. Whenever you have a Tim Burton film, there are certain actors that must look a certain way to fit the part and Purnell definitely, has that look.
The costume design by Colleen Atwood is stunning. The look of each character and their wardrobe perfectly matches Burton’s wacky world and gothic storytelling. Atwood has worked with Burton several times in the past, so them working together on costumes must be a no-brainer at this point. Along with the stunning costume design comes the film’s breathtaking cinematography. French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel worked with Burton on Dark Shadows and Big Eyes as well as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Needless to say, Delbonnel is familiar with films that require a lot of visual style, and he shows that once again with this film.
My major issue with Miss Peregrine was with the casting of Samuel L. Jackson as Barron. While I always like seeing Jackson on-screen, I think he has to have a very particular type of role for audiences to forget that they are watching Samuel L. Jackson. Sadly, like Barron, Jackson looks the part, but his over the top antics didn’t allow me to forget that it wasn’t Samuel L. Jackson. There are just certain actors that rarely disappear into their roles and Jackson is one of them. I felt like he was trying to play up the whole “I’m the bad guy” role, but he was just too over the top for me.
With so much happening in just two hours, there are certain aspects of the film that feel overlooked. The relationship between Jacob and his father Franklin felt very forced and didn’t evolve into anything noteworthy. There are also some secondary characters that just seem to be part of the story to move it along. While these elements didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the film, I feel like they bothered me enough that I had to mention them. These particular storylines and characters could be overlooked in the book as well but given the fact that I haven’t read the book, I can only judge the film.
Matthew Margeson and Michael Higham did a remarkable job with the film’s score. Their musical score worked well and felt inspired by Danny Elfman. Margeson and Higham created a score that perfectly matched the tone of Burton’s creative vision. Usually, when Danny Elfman is absent from a Tim Burton film, you feel like certain element is missing, but that wasn’t the case with Margeson and Higham handling the film’s score.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is Burton’s big budget fairytale. While it isn’t Burton’s best big budget film to date, it is a step in the right direction. This is a rare Burton film that felt like a mixture between a big budget studio blockbuster and a Burton passion project. The fact that Burton was able to incorporate fragments of his earlier work within this story should delight long-time fans of his work. There is one sequence in particular where Burton incorporates stop-motion animation with monsters. This scene is beautifully done and reminded me of his Vincent short film. Needless to say, it put a huge smile on my face. One can only hope that Burton does return for the sequel as I am curious to see what else he can do with will this odd yet fascinating world.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a 7.5 out of 10.