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Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Directed by: Tim Burton

Premise: Based on the novel by Ranson Riggs. After the mysterious death of his grandfather, teenage Jacob (Asa Butterfield) follows clues to the ruins of a home for children only to discover a portal to a time loop set in the 1940s where children with strange powers hide from society. 

What Works: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a Tim Burton film and it has a few signature Burton touches that distinguish it from other fantasy movies. For instance, Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) has the ability to bring inanimate objects to life and make them do battle and the children are hiding in the time loop from adult peculiars who want to eat their eyeballs to absorb the children’s powers. The macabre details help to differentiate this movie from other post-Harry Potter young adult fantasies. Although the peculiar children are named in the title, the crux of the story is really the relationship between Jacob (Asa Butterfield) and his grandfather (Terence Stamp). Jacob’s attempt to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s past is frequently the best element of the movie and the way the filmmakers manipulate time allows the story to do some interesting things with their subplot. The film’s portrayal of Jacob’s relationship with his father, played by Chris O’Dowd, is also bold. In a lot of similar movies, the adults are overprotective or they are clueless. But Jacob’s father is downright apathetic about his parental duties and it’s an unusual father-son relationship for a Hollywood movie.

What Doesn’t: Unfortunately, a lot of the best elements of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children are marginalized. Jacob discovers the truth about his grandfather very quickly and without much difficulty. Tim Burton’s ghoulish sense of the absurd is here but it is frequently muted. Everything about this film is obvious and it has none of the gradation or authentic coming-of-age moments that are so central to stories about young people. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children struggles with basic storytelling mechanics. The narrative takes forever to get going. The film establishes a mystery but the truth is revealed very quickly. Stories need to feel as though they are going somewhere but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children treads in place for most of its first half. There is no tangible conflict until halfway through the movie and even when the villainous characters impact the story there is little escalation. Part of the problem is that the characters are not interesting. All of the adults, even the grandfather, are exactly who they appear to be and none of the children are characterized. They each have a distinct look and a unique power but there is very little defining them as people. The film tries to force a love story between Jacob and Emma (Ella Purnell) but it’s not interesting at all. The children’s powers are generic and the film has none of the creativity of X-Men, from which it draws a lot of inspiration. Despite how similar this is to the X-Men films, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is different in an important way. The X-Men films are about people who are different from the rest of society and who take shelter in a school where they learn to accept themselves, build understanding with mainstream society, and put their powers to a constructive use. The whole point of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in X-Men is to prepare young people to survive off campus. The children of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children are told just the opposite. They hide from society and hop from time loop to time loop. At the risk of reading too much into the film, there is an implicit suggestion that people who feel different or are persecuted should hide instead of finding a way to function within society. That’s a regressive message to send to the audience, especially younger viewers.

Bottom Line: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is another mediocre fantasy film from Tim Burton. There are flashes of inspiration but the movie is mostly a slog through young adult fantasy clichés.

Episode: #615 (October 9, 2016)