Something is peculiar about this film, but probably not in the way you might think.
You can argue that Tim Burton’s recent output has been a mixed bag. For every disappointment such as Alice in Wonderland, he manages to stay a competent and ambitious director with films like Big Eyes. Now comes his next big project, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs. This already feels like a good fit for Burton, combining social outcasts with special powers and an enchanted world unlike anything you would see in reality.
Poor Jake lives a less than extraordinary life, being a social outcast and not having much support from his immediate family. The only family member that brings light to his life is his grandfather, who loves to tell him stories about Miss Peregrine, who ran a home for “peculiars,” which are kids born with unique abilities. On the night before Jake’s birthday, an unknown assassin murders his grandfather. With his last breath, he tells Jake to go to “the island,” where he believes Jake always belonged. Using a map, Jake travels to the island, and upon going through a dimensional portal, he meets the titular Miss Peregrine, played by Eva Green, and her group of peculiar children.
These children are peculiar, indeed. One child has a swarm of bees living in his body, another one can project his imagination and dreams using his eye, and one of the younger ones is invisible (when not wearing clothes, of course). The peculiars, as well as Miss Peregrine herself, are in danger of being hunted and killed by Wights, led by Mr. Barron, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Wights can take on a peculiar’s power by consuming their eyes upon killing them. When Mr. Barron holds Miss Peregrine captive, it is up to Jake and the peculiars to use their abilities to save her.
If only one of them had the power to breathe some life into this film. For a movie with a setup like this, it is wholly disappointing how low on energy the story is. In addition, the film is unsuccessful in establishing its own universe, mostly by explaining too much without any sense of humanity. Further, the characters show little emotion.
Although there is a romance between Jake and one of the “peculiars,” Emma, it feels mostly unnecessary and stale. It contains many of the tropes you would find in teenage romances, including but not limited to awkward conversations, emotional restraint on the girl’s part, and other male characters who act hostile due to jealousy. Perhaps if the characters had more personality, these clichés would be easier to swallow. Unfortunately, the little motivation the characters are given renders them as dull.
Eva Green is easily the best part of this film, and her casting as Miss Peregrine is flawless. Whether or not it is true to the original source material, Green’s performance is outstanding, and has a quirky yet classy tone that benefits the film. One can even compare her to Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins,” in how she shows care and compassion, but can also stand her ground when it means the most. She owns every scene that she appears in, and sadly, there are not that many. Instead, most of the film is spent with the other characters, whose lack of emotion dampens the film’s tone.
Now, to the film’s credit, there are occasional amusing scenes, and most of these are familiar from other Burton films. In one scene we see a peculiar who uses his power to bring two inanimate figures to life, only to have them battle to death. The scene is fun to watch, and the stop motion used to animate the figures (going back to Burton’s roots in his short, Frankenweenie) is a welcome breath of fresh air, and makes the CGI climax at the end pale by comparison. In one of the more credible uses of CGI, Miss Peregrine uses her pocket watch to stop time so that she and the peculiars can live the same day over and over again without aging. But, once again, the idea lacks emotional depth.
Miss Peregrine’s may not be the weakest entry of Burton’s filmography, but it doesn’t exactly rank among his strongest either. Most of the ideas mentioned are interesting concepts, but they are stuck in a film that doesn’t seem to care. That’s not to say the people involved, who have proven in the past how talented they are, don’t care, but the majority of the performances are inconsistent. If the characters are not able show emotional investment, how can the audience feel any?
NOTE: If you do want to see this movie, save some money and see a standard showing, for the 3D is unnecessary.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children opens in theaters this Friday!