Tim Burton is certainly one of the most easily recognisable directors working in Hollywood today. He has an aesthetic that is all his own, and the films that he has made have become modern classics and go-to stories for young people feeling different in their community. I counted myself as a fan of his films however as he began to turn out films that where quite frankly bad. So when I heard about his new project I thought I would give Tim Burton another go. Unfortunately I have yet to see Big Eyes so his newest film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children held the possibility of a return for a director who I had pointed out in the past as my favourite film maker.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, focuses on Jacob (Asa Butterfield), a Florida teen who feels like he doesn’t belong in the small town. After his grandfather (Terrence Stamp) dies in mysterious circumstances, he discovers his grandfather’s mysterious past and the strange children’s home in Wales run by the stern Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). What follows is a journey of self-discovery and a battle for survival against Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and his group of terrifying Hollows.
On paper this seems to be the ideal Burton project. There are so many interesting design possibilities of children with strange and wonderful powers: there are women who turn into birds, a giant gothic mansion and spindly monster that eat eyeballs. For the most part the film delivers visually and one can see how Burtons gothic sensibilities fit within Riggs’ gasoline-punk world. Each child is conceptualised in typically Burtonesque fashion and there are echos of Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories. Specific attention must be made to Horace, Hugh, and Enoch whose peculiarities play to Burtons
specific strengths, especially Enoch whose powers are manifested in Harryhousenesque sequences of stop motion. The hollows are similarly creepy and interesting despite being very similar to the internet’s favourite spookster Slenderman. The story is typically Burton, the hero is peculiar and doesn’t fit in his home or among his family, but finds a new life and acceptance in a place where the people are like him.
However in execution the film is lacklustre at best. The computer generated effects that should have enhanced the worlds instead seem to draw attention to themselves for being slightly off, thus compromising what should have been a magical journey. Similarly the performances are also not up to par; that is not to say they are bad, just that they are serviceable. Asa Butterworth gives some absolutely bizarre choices, Terrence Stamp and Judy Dench could have almost phoned their scenes in and they provide yet another example of Tim Burton hiring well known and talented actors for a few short scenes. Perhaps there were only two people who were having any fun with there roles. Firstly Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, whose otherworldly quality enhanced the headmistress’s maternal and murderous qualities to create an engaging character, and secondly Samuel L Jackson as the villain of the piece Mr Barron, who brings a glee to what is in the script a two dimensional bad guy.
Though the performances may be a result of the script and story, which whizzes by at a monumental pace, zipping from plot point to plot point without giving the audience time to really take in the world, or perhaps the actors to flesh out their characters, especially the peculiar children who are secondary characters. The best example of this is the standard and cookie cutter love story which is week at best and intensely troubling at worst. The conclusion of the film is confusing and rushed as well, and it does not hold up under the smallest amount of scrutiny, and proves that time travel is a very hard story device to use properly.
While not as bad as some of Tim Burton’s more recent films, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was still a bit of a disappointment; its great ideas and clever design was marred by some weak performances and shoddy construction that left no time for character development or world building. This may have been because of the hopes that I had for the film to revitalise my interest in Tim Burton’s work, so my word is biased in that regard. It has however turned me onto the novels of Ransom Riggs and I look forward very much to revisiting the peculiar world that he created.