I think it’s time for Tim Burton to retire. Or at least take a nice long holiday and then come back refreshed. Because, like his infamous leading man Johnny Depp, he’s gotten himself in a rut. He’s always been the “weird” director, which once meant he could take odd, creepy stories and find the beauty in them. (Remember Corpse Bride?) Now, it’s as if the weirdness has become a gimmick that consumes the film, leaving no room for storytelling or art.
That’s exactly the problem with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It’s like Burton was so focused on being creepy and weird that he forgot the storytelling aspect of filmmaking (which, in my opinion, is the most important aspect). It’s unfortunate because this had the potential to be a Beetlejuice or a Big Fish. Instead, it blends in with the likes of Burton’s more mediocre achievements: Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Based on a novel of the same name written by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children follows Jake (Asa Butterfield), a teen who lives an ordinary life in Florida. After his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) is killed by a monster that only he sees, Jake follows his grandfather’s stories to the small (fictional) island of Cairnholm in Wales, where he finds Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her home of peculiar children hidden in a time loop of September 3, 1943. While visiting, Jake learns that the peculiars are being hunted down by other peculiars who eat their eyeballs to keep from turning into invisible monsters. It’s up to Jake to protect the peculiars while also coming to understand that he himself is just as extraordinary.
The peculiars include Emma (Ella Purnell), who wears lead shoes to keep from floating away; Olive (Lauren McCrostie), who creates fire with her hands; Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), who can bring dead creatures back to life; Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone), who has prophetic dreams; Fiona (Georgia Pemberton), who can make plants grow; Hugh (Milo Park), who’s made of bees; Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), who has super strength; Claire (Raffiella Chapman), who has a mouth on the back of her head; Millard (Cameron King), who’s invisible; and the twins (Joseph & Thomas Odwell), who turn people to stone. And, of course, Miss Peregrine, who becomes a falcon.
It’s a fascinating concept that feels like a mix of X-Men and Harry Potter. But unlike both of those stories, main character Jake is more new-age YA novel hero (Think Tris from the Divergent series) than he is Harry Potter. He’s the guy we follow around because he’s the ordinary person’s view into a magical world, but then it turns out he has a power that makes him peculiar, too. Except that power isn’t useful beyond defeating the antagonist, and it’s brought up more as a convenient plot point to save the other characters than it is a way for Jake’s character to grow and learn. Hooray for the bland dude!
It’s a beautiful film, don’t get me wrong. Burton is damn good at playing with color and light in each scene. And he even plays with visual humor here and there, like the hard segue between the somewhat terrifying opening credits and the opening scene of serene waves washing up on a Floridian beach (which are meant to juxtapose the “peculiar” world from the “ordinary” world).
Burton has the talent. Of that, there’s no doubt. But somewhere along the way, he lost the focus, and you can see that in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Children. It’s a film where the visuals and eccentricity are more important than the story itself.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: C+
Listen to my review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 31:39).