The world may never know how this wasn’t an original idea by Tim Burton, but it still wasn’t enough.
Jake (Asa Butterfield) remembers stories of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, told to him when he was little by his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp). Grown to a young man, Jake defends Abe’s aging eccentricities and earnest beliefs from his own father, but a brutal attack and loss of his grandpa sends Jake on a journey of discovery. With only a set of old photos to guide him, Jake discovers that not only is Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her home quite real, but the aforementioned “peculiars” are in immediate danger from a man named Barron (Samuel L. Jackson)… and so is Jake.
Based on the book Ransom Riggs, the trailers promise a perfect marriage of director Tim Burton’s signature creepy visuals with a story that’s for peculiars by peculiars. Following the disaster of his Dark Shadows misfire, Miss Peregrine must have seemed like a sure thing, but very little actual story seemed to present itself in the trailers. We’ve seen all-weird and no story from Mr. Burton before — Beetlejuice worked by sheer force of will — but would fans of the original book enough to pack theaters giving so little story away in the advertising?
The film can be described in a single word: “rushed.” There’s a lot of good and creepy here, but much of it is undermined with little or no development. For example, Ella Purnell’s character Emma Bloom is immediately established as the “it” girl; everyone loves her and wants her favor, but of course she instantly seems to bond with Jake. Jake is smitten, but Emma returns the interest because he reminds her of someone else… neither of which is likely to work out. It’s an instant romance, Cliffs Notes for a longer and better narrative that this film makes no time for. Unfortunately, neither does anything else; the other peculiars have incredible abilities held back until the mandatory “final battle” which could have ended the conflict much sooner and better for our heroes… except they don’t and they didn’t.
The biggest stretch for Samuel L. Jackson here are the prosthetics they have him in, while Judy Dench’s appearance is blink-and-you’ll-miss-her. There’s some real imagination and cleverness going on here, such as the concept of time loops and resets, but too many of the other elements seem either contrived or defining. What appears on-screen are one-dimensional beats in place of characters, especially since many of the peculiars appear to have interesting backstories that there’s simply no time for. Oh, here’s your power/gift/curse aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand here’s where you use it — yay… repeat. Miss Peregrine’s portrayal by Eva Green was practically perfect in every way (Mary Poppins reference intended), but she is far and away not the main character nor the film’s focus — another pity.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a beautiful story and high concept that never gives us a chance to let the characters emerge and make us care. Full of interesting but ultimately distracting special effects, all the best story here seems to happen off-screen in order to rush into another special effect. Perhaps there’s a longer version that takes the time to build the necessary relationships to give us the feels, but the cut that made it into theaters is an abbreviated bullet-point list of what could have been wonderful — but it’s far from the disaster that Dark Shadows was.
2 Skull Recommendation Out of Four