Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the adaptation of the popular young adult novel by Ransom Riggs which chronicles the tales of people, particularly youngsters, with extraordinary abilities. Such gifts might include the ability to control air, water, time, or even reanimate the dead or lifeless. When Jake (Asa Butterfield) discovers this hidden world of remarkable individuals, his life changes forever.
Jake’s grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) told bedtime stories of monsters and a sanctuary run by the charming Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). As Abe passes away after a mysterious attack, he begs Jake to seek out Miss Peregrine and learn the truth about who he is. Jake, with endless love and devotion to his grandfather, agrees and journeys out to a small remote island in the UK with his father (Chris O’Dowd), where he begins his search. What he finds is the realization that his grandfather’s stories were true, and the family he’s fought his life to protect may be in danger.
Where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children succeeds is with its world-building, characters, and intrigue. Directed by Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), the entire film bears the mark of the man’s creativity and whimsy, and every detail of the unusual (and often very weird) universe feels painted with thought and care. From the steampunk-inspired boots that keep Emma (Ella Purnell) from floating away, to the rows of razor shark-like teeth that comprise Mr. Barron’s (Samuel L. Jackson) grin, Burton has assembled a fantastical puzzle with a variety of set pieces, props, and special effects.
Of particular note is Butterfield, the audience proxy. As Jake, when Butterfield encounters Miss Peregrine, and her shelter, he does so with open-minded skepticism. He asks questions, and responds and reacts to, the strangeness he cannot explain as any reasonable teenager would. It is refreshing and enjoyable to watch a young adult protagonist portrayed as intelligently level-headed. As Jake becomes more steeped in the new world he has uncovered, a larger mystery is revealed full of threat and malice. It is only due to the relatability of Jake that audiences will be able to both accept and delight in the weirdness while also becoming rapt in the peril.
While Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children adeptly balances its colorful cast, setting, and genres, its pacing leaves something to be desired. One can’t help but think that Burton has in his vault and even longer cut of the film as some arcs, especially near the end, feel unresolved or muddily rushed to confusing conclusions. As such, the film may leave audiences with more questions than answers. Also of note, and this is not necessarily a criticism but more of a warning, Burton’s yarn is full of the type of monsters and monstrous activities that are ingredients for nightmares, not fairy tales.
In the end, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children refreshingly hits the sweet spot for a “family” film fantasy adventure that gears slightly older and entertains despite some convulsion.
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