Burton flick surprises with “peculiar” choices

Colin Vandenberg

Staff Writer

Tim Burton is an interesting director, to say the least. Several of his films—such as “Edward Scissorhands”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, and “BeetleJuice”—are hailed as classics by many. However, he hasn’t directed a film that was a both a critical and commercial success in over a decade. Particularly, Critics have disparaged his recent films that adapted known properties, such as “Alice in Wonderland”, “Planet of the Apes”, and “Dark Shadows”. Thankfully for Burton fans, however, the acclaimed director bucks that trend (for the most part) with his latest film, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is an adaptation of the best-selling young-adult book series, and shares its title with the first book in the series. The film follows Jake (Asa Butterfield), a teenage boy who doesn’t have much to interest him besides the  stories of his grandfather Abe (Terrence Stamp), about the mysterious Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), and the highly gifted (peculiar)  children she cares for.  Following a bizarre sequence of events, Jake ends up on the island in Wales where the titular Miss Peregrine lives. When Jake finally meets Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children, he unknowingly finds himself a target for Barren (Samuel L. Jackson): a dangerous man who has hunted peculiar children his whole life.

While the story certainly bears similarities to “X-Men”–and practically every Young Adult fantasy book ever—keep in mind that many of the film’s creative and interesting details were deliberately excluded from this review.  This fairly complex story that’s difficult to summarize without giving potential spoilers.  

The film presents plenty of unique elements and compelling narrative turns; each  conveyed in an artful and entertaining fashion by Miss Peregrine’s exposition, , and Burton’s skillful direction. Like the good Burton’s films, the slow pacing in the first act is made up for by the impressive visuals and compelling characters present in the second and third acts. The moment Green’s Peregrine shows up—accompanied by Burton’s signature great visuals — the film instantly transforms into a captivating and entertaining experience for the whole family to enjoy.  Asa Butterfiled is likeable as the protagonist, and each of the peculiar children are compelling and well-acted; it’s Green’s stellar performance, however, that is pulls the whole film together.

The narrative features several rules and mew concepts, particularly involving Miss Peregrine’s identity as an Ymbryne (sounds like ‘imprint’), and how her mastery over time impacts many facets of the story.  With the possible exception of the ending, Burton and the screenwriters do successfully keep the complex fantasy elements comprehensible enough to not detract from the audience’s enjoyment of the characters or understanding of the plot.  That being said, the story certainly features some head-scratching moments. A few characters make some strange decisions in the first and third acts that seem to be more motivated by plot convenience than clear motivation. The climactic fight is appropriately thrilling for a family film, but during that scene, Sam Jackson’s great turn as the villain is undermined by border-line lazy writing in an otherwise commendable script.

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Despite its flaws, “Miss Peregrine” offers a creative narrative, colorful characters, and great visuals. If you’re looking for a fun and memorable film to take your family to before “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” hits theaters, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is a great place to start your search.

Grade: B-