I admit upfront that this review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is from the perspective of someone who thoroughly enjoyed the Ransom Riggs novel on which the movie is based. I’ve heard that people unfamiliar with the book have appreciated director Tim Burton’s fantasy adventure a lot more. Regardless, even if viewed solely as a cinematic experience, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is very flawed and unsatisfying.
To outline the plot first: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children centres on teenager Jake (Asa Butterfield), who hasn’t come to terms with the death of his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp). Jake saw something in the shadows on the night his grandfather died, and this fact, combined with cryptic messages, drives Jake to the tiny Welsh island where Abe lived during World War II. There, thanks to the help of some magical time travel, Jake discovers the children’s home where his grandfather stayed. Jake meets the home’s quirky headmistress, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), makes new “peculiar” friends with special powers, gets a love interest and finds purpose. This is a good thing seeing as Samuel L. Jackson and his fellow monsters are coming for the kids.
The first problem with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the pacing. The whole thing feels incredibly rushed. Some scenes seem to cut even before characters finish speaking. In the mark of a poor adaptation trying to fit in every single plot beat, the film is full of jarring jumps and plot holes.
There is also an especially noticeable tonal shift right before the climax. I suspect that even viewers unfamiliar with the novel will be able to identify this moment as the point where the source material – with its contained narrative focus – is abandoned in favour of a large, crowd-pleasing battle. This extended fight scene is visually striking at least, but there’s still a very real sense that the film suffers because of such a large break from everything that preceded it.
Having until this point alternated revelling in the macabre, and forcing WONDER down viewers’ throats, the movie goes completely over the top in the end. Burton has always been a director who encourages his actors to cast aside their inhibitions and just go for it. In Jackson’s case, that is detrimental, as his performance in the final 30 minutes is so goofy and megalomaniacal that it’s distracting. Green is fortunately absent from the screen during this same period, so her portrayal of a kooky OCD mother hen, who micro-manages her charges by the second, manages to go untainted.
The peculiar children, at least, are interesting and charming. More time could have been spent exploring the bond and rivalries between the six or so oldest, who receive the most story focus. It’s up to the young actors to do the emotional heavy lifting, while the adult cast ham it up – with the exception of Chris O’Dowd as Jake’s downbeat dad, and a completely wasted Judi Dench.
There are a handful of moments in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that feel very Tim Burton-esque. You can understand why the director was drawn to the project. It’s basically his chance to make Harry Potter by way of X-Men. However, given the speed of proceedings, the audience just receives glimpses of magic, and never the opportunity to feel anything.
Some viewers may get caught up in the visual spectacle, with all its weirdness, and that may be enough. Personally, though, even in this department, I found the film straining to be odd, and it was far from sufficient. Combined with unmemorable 3D, it’s all very disappointing.
As a final note, parents with young, sensitive children may want to be cautious when it comes to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. There is a good deal of nightmarish content that may frighten them.
Last Updated: October 14, 2016