Fantasy/Adventure/Family, 127 Minutes, 2016
Ransom Riggs’ best-selling debut novel seems tailor made for Tim Burton’s [IMDB] off-kilter sensibilities. Most children are normal, some are odd, some are gifted and some very few are peculiar. Peculiar children might be as strong as a dozen men, be lighter than air or able to start fires with their hands. Such children are cared for by the Ymbrynes, magical women who create isolated loops in time to protect their wards.
Miss Peregrine (the wonderful Eva Green [IMDB]) has set aside September 3, 1943, a lovely day on a small Welsh island. She and her adoptive children live there, perpetually safe from the German air raid that destroys the entire area on September fourth. The real danger is Barron (Samuel L. Jackson [IMDB]), an evil peculiar intent on raiding these sanctuaries, experimenting on the Ymbrynes and feeding the eyes of peculiar children to his invisible allies, the hollowgasts.
Abe (Terrance Stamp [IMDB], who will clearly be replacing the late Christopher Lee in Burton productions moving forward) once lived in Miss Peregrine’s home. After his mysterious death, his grandson, Jake (Asa Butterfield [IMDB]), undertakes to determine if the stories he told were real or, as Jake suspects, only the fanciful ramblings of an old man.
As expected from Burton, the visuals are surreal and gleefully effective. Most of the effects are practical, with digital work used sparingly. If anything, the effects may be a bit too effective. Eyeless teeth monsters, dancing corpses and plates over-brimming with realistic eyeballs could exceed the limits of younger family members.
The core story – protecting children from monsters – is clear and works well. It suffers from muddled supporting details and vague motivations. Time traveling loops and the strange, often contradictory, rules that govern them will leave the audience scratching it’s collective head if they bother to think about them. For example, if the children come forward to 2016 from 1943 “time would catch up to them” and they’d age in short order… but Jake can seemingly go back to 1943 with no issues whatsoever. Why? Quiet, you!
Green stand-outs as the stern, yet caring, Miss Peregrine. Her angular features, dark eyes and firm voice slide seamlessly into Burton’s quirky aesthetic. Jackson, on the other hand, decidedly does not. The straightforward, deadpan delivery that serves him so well elsewhere is anachronistic and completely ineffective here.
More cynical viewers may be excused for dismissing this as “goth X-Men”; others may embrace it for the same reason. Burton fans will be split: some disappointed and others thrilled by his retreat to his comfort zone after 2014’s excellent drama “Big Eyes” [My Review]. While this may be par for the course for Burton, it’s a solid, entertaining lark marred only slightly by a muddled story and some questionable casting.