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Tim Burton’s ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ is not another Harry Potter

By Douglas Davidson

September 29, 2016

Adapting a best-selling story requires a director who can encompass the ideals of the author and bring the internal vision to life, which is no easy feat. However, it’s clear that tapping famed auteur Tim Burton (Beetlejuice/Big Fish/Dark Shadows) to adapt Ransom Rigg’s 2011 bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for the big screen was a superb idea. This macabre yet never morbid kids’ tale aligns perfectly with Burton’s left-of-center view of the world.

Jake (Asa Butterfield) is your average teen until a horrific tragedy befalls his family. In search of answers, Jake journeys to Wales to track down an abandoned orphanage once under the care of Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), only to find himself thrust into a hidden battle between extraordinary children and vicious monsters.  

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Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and Jake (Asa Butterfield). Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Don’t let the marketing fool you, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not another Harry Potter, nor is it a superhero film. While full of whimsy and magic, Miss Peregrine’s has more in common with the Brothers Grimm fairy tales as it walks the line between wonder and peril. The cast of characters within the movie fit well within a horror film, given their peculiarities: one can reanimate and control corpses, another harnesses fire from her hands, and another has a nest of bees living inside him. Through the eyes of Burton, the world is exactly as it should be. He is masterful at altering the audience’s perception of the macabre by presenting everything in a matter-of-fact way. Once accepted, the narrative becomes easier to follow as Jake’s adventure becomes increasingly more complex and dangerous.

Helping Burton bring Rigg’s world to life is screenwriter Jane Goldman, whose work on films like X-Men: Days of Future Past and Kingsman: The Secret Service featured the surreal-yet-grounded-in-reality adventures of large casts. As much as Burton’s style blends with Rigg’s imaginative story, Goldman’s adaptation ensures that all of the characters receive their due and none are without agency.

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Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Like most book-to-film adaptations, the casting for the film is immense yet, gratefully, never feels overstuffed. Clearly each actor has their place and none are given any more or less screen time than feels deserved. Butterfield’s Jake is meant to be the bridge between the world we expect and the one hidden away. Jake’s internal turmoil over his role in the story is reasonable; however, Butterfield’s performance is consistently stiff or uncomfortable. It’s unclear if this is a direct interpretation of the character from the novel, but Butterfield’s performance seems far too reserved. In contrast is Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Barron, who seeks out individuals with abilities so that he can use them to give himself immortality.  It feels odd wanting more of the villain than the hero, but Jackson’s undeniable charisma nearly makes you want to switch sides. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine presents herself as a simple stern schoolmarm who will dispatch any threat that could befall her children with extreme prejudice.  This aspect would be horrifying in any other situation, yet Green portrays Peregrine’s veracity has enough softness that those in her care never find her fearsome. The final member of the main story is Ella Purnell’s Emma Bloom, a peculiar with a gift for controlling air. The character of Emma could easily have been characterized as simply a damsel who spends her time pining for what could have been, yet Purnell’s performance ensures that she is neither beholden nor helpless.

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Courtesy 20th Century Fox

The remaining cast of Miss Peregrine’s is a veritable who’s who including Judi Dench, Allison Janney, Terence Stamp, Chris O’Dowd, and Rupert Everett. Impressively, each of these actors, along with the ones making up Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children, are given enough time to become fully formed individuals that the audience cares for, rather than background characters in Jake’s story.

Like the kids themselves, the film is a bit off-putting but not without its charms. Though long, Miss Peregrine is never boring. Though full of murder, mutilation, and the macabre, it’s never grotesque or absurd and earns every bit of its PG-13 rating. Once audiences settle into the story, Miss Peregrine presents a delightful, whimsical adventure that relishes in finding joy in the peculiar.

Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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