This adaptation succeeds most of the time.
For better or worse, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children feels like a more subdued Tim Burton film, with the usual quirkiness pushed to the side. The striking visuals and dark aesthetic help please the senses and even the story finds some genuine heart. This adaptation succeeds most of the time.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an adaptation of the 2011 novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs. Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) is a loner who lives in a cold world. His mysterious grandfather (Terence Stamp) suffers an unexplainable death. In order to discover the truth, he travels to an island with his father (Chris O’Dowd). There he discovers that the fairytales his grandfather told him might be true when he finds himself in what appears to be a different world. He meets Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who owns a children’s home where she watches over people with extraordinary “peculiarities,” such as Emma (Ella Purnell), who Jake falls for. But darkness ensues when figures from his grandfather’s past come to wreak havoc on the home, such as the Wights led by Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and the Hollows, creatures only visible by shadow.
Burton knows how to paint a compelling picture. The trademarks are there: the use of subdued blue and white lighting, the extravagant costumes from Colleen Atwood, to even the way the hair on each character’s head is designed. It takes a little while to get there since most of those trademarks do not show up until we get to the children’s home. In fact, it is hard to tell in the beginning that this is a Tim Burton film. But once at the home, Burton’s striking visuals take center stage, and it is all beautiful to look at. Cinematographer Bruce Delbonnel, in his third collaboration with Burton, finds nice texture to each frame. There’s even a scene at a carnival scored to European dubstep that brings to mind the Johnny Depp-break dancing scene in Alice in Wonderland, but this one is actually fun to watch.
In a lot of ways, there’s a nice blend of gothic fantasy and heart in the story. It is easy to sympathize with the children and Miss Peregrine because Jane Goldman’s script allows us to see past the superficial abilities and find humanity. It helps that the performances are good, with Green delivering some of her most subdued and finely layered work since Casino Royale. Purnell has a presence that feels right in the Burton universe. Stamp portrays a wonderfully sympathetic figure in Jake’s grandfather.
The weak link of the cast is Butterfield, who showed a presence in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Hugo. But that is not his fault. His character—who is our center—is, unfortunately, the most bland. Butterfield is not showing the emotional range that he could because there is not much to play off of.
One important Burton trademark missing from this film is composer Danny Elfman. In his place are Mike Higham and Matthew Margeson, who contribute a more atmospheric score. It works for that reason but is not that memorable after the fact.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has the Tim Burton trademarks, but it feels like one of the most non-Burton films he has done in a long time. Some who are more into the gothic over-the-top style of his earlier works might be disappointed. However, the subtle visual palette and the heartfelt story help to carry it across the finish line. | Bill Loellke