Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench
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On paper, Tim Burton and Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children was almost too obvious a pairing for 20th Century Fox to make. So it’s refreshing that in practice, it’s something of a renewal for a filmmaker who seemed to be stuck commercialising his own style in a series of lifeless re-imaginings of previously adapted properties.
Based on Ransom Riggs’ popular novels, the film follows the introverted Jake Portman (Butterfield), a teenager from Florida, as he travels to Wales, after his grandfather Abe (Stamp) is attacked by a monster. He’s hoping to find Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, a place that Abe told him all about as a child, and he’s astonished to discover that the children’s home, seemingly destroyed in an air raid by the Luftwaffe, is actually preserved inside a time loop.
Miss Peregrine (Green) lives there with a group of children with paranormal abilities, keeping them safe from the murderous, disfigured Hollows that stalk them. By eating the eyeballs of younger Peculiars, they’ll be able to morph into one of the Wights, led by the shapeshifting Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson). No sooner than Jake has discovered this new family, he has to defend it from the creatures baying at the door.
Burton matches this material well and the result is his best film in many years. However, that’s not so high a bar that it’s a flawless return to form; the film does suffer from an incredibly slow setup. Writer Jane Goldman has a lot of exposition to get through and the execution of her script lacks the investment or danger of Burton’s early works, such as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. It also suffers the same pacing problems as other Fox movies of recent years, such as Fantastic Four or X-Men: Apocalypse, in which the young characters spend about 90 minutes meeting each other before a boss battle.
Happily, before too long, Jackson comes along as the fanged, fright-wigged villain, who awakens the X-Men of it all, rather than the sub-Harry Potter (i.e. the early Chris Columbus ones) stall in which the movie has been languishing up to that point. What follows is frightfully fun and it considerably livens up the movie as a whole, compensating for a dull and laboured run-up with punchlines to each of the Peculiars’ characters and power sets.
Although Jackson and other old hands, including Terence Stamp and Judi Dench, make up the difference, the standout here is undoubtedly Eva Green, because she sums up why the film works better than most every other specifically Burtonesque film the director has made in recent years. Where she vamped it up in 2012’s Dark Shadows, her Miss Peregrine leaves a big impression without being so self-consciously quirky. She’s effortlessly eccentric, with an air of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka or any of the lead actors in Doctor Who in the way that she acts alongside her young co-stars.
Burton’s clearly having more fun than usual too, parading his latest collection of oddball characters in a story that suits his sensibilities. For instance, there’s a lovely Ray Harryhausen homage in a scene involving a Peculiar who can resurrect the dead, which feels like it goes all the way back to Frankenweenie (the first one), and his longstanding eccentricity is well met by his cast and by the production designers.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children occasionally creaks under the weight of its own world-building, but the preparation for later playtime doesn’t go unrewarded by the time the credits have rolled. With no sequels on the horizon, we don’t know that this film adaptation will have the legs of a Harry Potter or an X-Men, but it’s an outlet for the likes of Burton, Green and Jackson to have fun, and once we catch up with them, it’s just as enjoyable for us.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
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