The publishing industry often looks down its elitist nose at so-called “young adult” literature, but writers aiming at a teen audience have given us a lot of our most beloved stories and characters. Not just Harry Potter and his wonderful Hogwarts, but The Hobbit, The Wizard of Oz, Huckleberry Finn, The Chronicles of Narnia and so many more. And add to that the delightful trilogy that starts with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
Why start a movie review by talking about the book? Because the film veers off from the story in a surprising way and adds a completely new ending. But, surprise, it’s quite good nonetheless. In fact, the match of Riggs’ dark, goth time traveling horror story and director Tim Burton’s peculiar sensibilities has resulted in one of Burton’s best movies in many, many years.
Yes, it’s definitely weird. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children starts out only a bit offbeat but once our protagonist Jacob (Asa Butterfield) meets Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), the film really zooms down a very weird road. But, oh, is it great fun!
Jacob lives in South Florida, his parents don’t understand him at all and it’s his grandfather, Abraham (Terence Stamp) with whom he has a close relationship. Grandpa’s full of weird, heroic tales of his time as an orphan in World War II and he has a tin box full of really, well, peculiar photos of children. But these aren’t just any children, they’re invisible, surrounded by bees, floating above the ground, holding up massive boulders, or covered in sheets. Grandpa has a story for each, explaining how they were his fellow orphans, safe from the war because of their orphanage being located on the isolated island of Cairnholm in far-off Wales.
But Grandpa isn’t just a spinner of tall tales who grew up in an orphanage, however much Jacob’s parents and sympathetic therapist Dr. Golan (Allison Janney) repeat that fact. He’s… peculiar. In fact, Jacob learns to his surprise that all the stories Grandpa told of odd children with weird powers are true. He meets super strong Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), Claire (Raffiella Chapman) who has a mouth at the back of her head, and Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), who has the creepy power of reanimation. He also meets and is besotted by the lovely Emma (Ella Purnell), who floats: she has complete control of air. Millard (Cameron King) is invisible — when he’s naked, at least — and Victor (Louis Davison), well, Victor just lays in bed, seemingly dead.
Miss Peregrine herself is a Ymbrynes and can turn into a peregrine falcon. Its her task to take care of the peculiar children and protect them from the outside world. But there’s another adult in this strange universe, the evil Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), who seeks immortality but is perfectly content to help his fellow “hollowgasts” stay youthful by eating the eyeballs of peculiar children. Grossed out? You should be.
In fact, one warning: With its wildly imaginative creatures and sudden scares, this isn’t a film for the wee ones. Then again, neither was Harry Potter and there were plenty of tweens and younger children in those movie theaters. Your call, but I wouldn’t take my 12yo to this film nor share it with her once it’s on DVD.
Still, whether it’s good for a tween or not, there’s lots to like in this stylish telling of Jacob’s adventures as he tries to understand his Grandfather’s stories, meets the wonderful Miss Peregrine and falls in love with Emma. Fans of the book might not even realize just how much more Burton has tacked on in the last reels of the film. I can’t discuss what’s changed without too much of a spoiler, but suffice to say that the film would have been at least 15min shorter if it would have ended where Riggs wrapped up the first book of his series.
Unfortunately, director Tim Burton also succumbs to one of his common cinematic problems: He doesn’t know where to actually end his movies. The addition of all the climactic footage isn’t detrimental to the story, but Burton doesn’t end at the culmination of the climax, he has another scene. And then another. And yet another scene that would have been better left on the cutting room floor. Fade to black, Mr. Burton. It’s okay.
There’s lots more to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in terms of the story, the striking and engrossing visuals, and the delightful mid-century British banter. It has some flaws but it’s also one of the most entertaining movies of 2016, and well worth watching in the theater. Go see it, and enjoy! I’m definitely planning on seeing it again.