Tim Burton is a tricky filmmaker – I wouldn’t call him a bad director by any regard, but in recent years, he has begun to slip ever so slightly. That isn’t to imply that his films aren’t enjoyable – but in some of his more recent works, he seems to be becoming slightly more self-referential and even parodying himself. It seemed like the biggest imitator of Tim Burton was Tim Burton himself. Luckily for us, he did manage to be slightly more audacious with his most recent film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. This film may not be a masterpiece, but it is the nearest we’ve gotten to the Tim Burton of the 1990s and early 2000s in many years.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is about Jacob (Asa Butterfield, obviously – Hollywood, there are other actors in his age group), a teenager who loses his grandfather, and goes in search of the home in Wales that harboured “peculiar” children (of course, this is referring to the safe havens children in Europe were sent to during the Second World War – an allusion slightly more overt in the book). However, he soon discovers that this home is indeed for children of the most peculiar kind, and serves as a safe haven from the rest of humanity. The house is run by the tough but kind Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), and throughout the film, Jake finds that he himself is peculiar, and undergoes a journey to come to terms with this fact, and to avenge his grandfather’s untimely death and hopefully turn back time. The story is far more complex and has a lot more nuance to it (for better or for worse), but for the sake of being surprised and not revealing the twists to those who may want to seek out this very entertaining film, I will leave discussions of the plot there for now.
I’m a little mixed on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I think it is certainly a very fun film, and it does not have any glaring flaws that can be criticized, or aspects that I feel were completely detrimental to the film. However, there was something missing to it, and I am not quite sure what it was. There was a slight detachment from the real world in this film – and not in terms of fantasy, but rather in terms of how the film connects with the audience. There were times when this film went off on a tangent that quite simply could not be followed without overthinking the plot, and it becomes troubling when one has to overthink the plot, because then all the flaws in the film are exposed. However, for every small issue I had with this film, there was something delightful about it.
I won’t say much Asa Butterfield. He seems to be the antithesis of Burton’s muse, Johnny Depp, in the way that while Depp constantly plays different, quirky characters (once again, for better or for worse), Butterfield is always stuck playing the socially awkward but brave, yet reluctant, teenage protagonist. He has been playing that role since The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t have much of a screen presence. Yet, it would be a waste to spend much time discussing him, because his performance wasn’t bad enough to actually warrant much complaint – it was serviceable, got the job done and was perfectly fine (just slightly bland). In fact, most of the children in this film struggled to stand out, and even if Ella Purnell is a star-in-the-making, she also wasn’t developed as well as I would’ve liked. The children got the job done, and they were able to keep up with the tone of the film, which was tricky – I just wish more time was spent on the other children, or at least have had them developed a bit more (this is a problem with a lot of films that I spoke of in my review of The Sound of Music – in many films with a large group of children playing a major part, there is focus on just one or two of them, and the rest are essentially just plot devices used to drive the story along, where the filmmakers could’ve been justified in trimming off some of the other narrative fat and developing the characters a bit more to make them seem slightly more interesting than they are in the final product).
Leaving the children aside, there is one aspect of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that deserves the highest amount of praise – Eva Green. With the exception of Tilda Swinton, I cannot think of another actress working today that embodies the idea of otherworldly grace and genuine celestial charm like Eva Green – and while she may not be a household name, she was certainly a great fit for the role and played it perfectly. Charming, funny and deeply meaningful and touching, Green brought everything to her performance as the titular headmistress, and if there wasn’t any reason to follow Eva Green’s previous and future career decisions before, there certainly is one now. I thank the heavens that Green was cast in the role, because Burton saved himself from the ultimate self-parodying ridicule by casting her instead of his ex-wife Helena Bonham Carter, who it seems is almost too perfect of a match for the role. You know Burton has become slightly predictable when you spend time in this film wondering which roles Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp would play.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children actually may be Tim Burton’s best film since Big Fish, was which similar in how it told an optimistic story about a journey to the past, looking for answers and self-atonement. In a way, the best thing about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is how distant it is from what we’d expect from Tim Burton – and that isn’t to say that it doesn’t contain the same gothic quirkiness of his most famous films, but in terms of the story it tells, and the conventions explored, it is uncharacteristic – Burton hardly ever makes films that are so optimistic – and while it is dark much of the time in terms of the tone, there is an underlying sense of otherworldly bliss in this film, which is contrastive to the sometimes grungy despair of his other films (including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the most undeniably bleak of all of Burton’s films). In my opinion, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was the right film for Tim Burton to make – it suited his sensibilities and fit right into his wheelhouse, but it was different enough that he didn’t need to resort to falling back on the same bag of tricks, and actually gave himself somewhat of a challenge throughout. I’m glad, because for all the criticisms I have for Burton, he is certainly a massively talented filmmaker that I really do adore.
For some strange reason, the area in which Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children failed was technically. Burton has always been someone who has been audacious in how he uses technology in his films, but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children seemed to be somewhat of a step back for him, and I am not sure if there were budget constraints, or if they were short on time, but a lot of the technical aspects of this film seemed unfinished. I use the term unfinished, because there was an imbalance throughout on many fronts in terms of technical aspects. For example, this film had an amazing score, yet in one or two scenes (such as the penultimate fight scene), the music sounds like an old video game. For some that may be retro and trendy, but for me, it completely took me out of an otherwise compelling scene. Another is that the CGI effects were spectacular in some parts, and terrible in others (such as in the rendering of the fighting skeletons in the aforementioned scene) – I felt this was a result of it being rushed rather than the resources not being there. However, this wasn’t too major of a problem, and while it did disappoint me that this film seemed incomplete and unpolished, it didn’t detract too much from my overall impression of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
In conclusion, I’d just like to state than Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not Tim Burton’s best film ever (that will forever be Ed Wood, but of course I can’t be trusted with that fact, because it is my favourite movie of all time, so I’m obviously biased), but it certainly is not his worst. In fact, it doesn’t even rank as one of his worst, and I’d easily rank this in the upper tier of his work. My favourite aspect of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is how there was clear potential for it to pander to the franchise concept, but instead of dumbing it down to appeal to a wider audience and have them beg for a sequel, it is aware of its own unique nature and ends on a note that will allow it to be a satisfying standalone film if the sequels never pan out – and with any potential franchise or adaptation of the first book in a series, there is always pressure to make it popular enough that a sequel is definite, and sometimes that fails dismally (just look at The Golden Compass – remember when that was going to be the next big franchise?). Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a great film, and I certainly feel it is worth the time of absolutely anyone. It may not be the most child-friendly film, and it is often quite terrifying, but it is edgy and entertaining, and will satisfy those looking for something unique. I am just so glad that Burton is back on track, and I hope he keeps this streak up, because he’s too interesting of a filmmaker to descend into self-parody.
One last thing – I am a book lover, but the world of book reviews is one that is utterly terrifying and foreign to me, and I admire those that actually take part in it, because it is uncharted territory for me, even if I would love to enter into it one day. However, there is one particular book reviewer that I admire immensely, and her review for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (the book obviously) is most excellent, and can be found here – and I highly suggest exploring the rest of the blog as well, because it is wonderful and filled with insightful reviews and interesting discussions about literature (and it is funny and well-written as well, which is obviously even better!)