Following a horrific family tragedy, Jacob (Asa Butterfield) follows clues that take him to an abandoned orphanage on a Welsh island where he meets Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her most peculiar children. But the mystery and danger deepen as he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers… and their powerful enemies. Ultimately, Jacob discovers that only his own special peculiarity can save his new friends.
Tim Burton eschewed the opportunity to make Alice in Wonderland follow-up Alice Through the Looking Glass in favour of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. With the first ‘Alice movie being his biggest ever box office hit, this was considered by some to be a brave choice and when Alice Through the Looking Glass being both a critical and commercial flop (we didn’t like it either), expectations were high. With an original, weird and macabre story taken from the recently published book by author Ransom Riggs, lots of gothic horror and an eclectic and talented cast, this looked to be a vintage Burton playground. It’s a pity then that, despite being entertaining and expectedly dark (for a 12a) in places, on the whole the film rather disappoints.
It all starts well enough with a standard American boy Jake (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a standard American street, two things you don’t really associate with Tim Burton. Of course, things start to get strange soon enough with Jake’s beloved grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp, who looks like he wandered in from another movie) being killed and his eyes plucked out. Twenty minutes later, and with nary a sign of Miss Peregrine or any peculiar children, Jake and his dad (Chris O’Down, pretty much nailing a spot-on American accent) are in Wales looking for clues to a mysterious postcard and last message from Abe, and hopefully closure for Jake, mentally troubled since his grandpa’s untimely death. It’s all very plodding to say the least and Asa Butterfield as Jake is very two-dimensional, reciting his lines as though reading the back of a cereal packet. Thankfully, we’re soon in for some time travel back to World War II and (finally) a meeting with the title’s children.
Here the film steps up a gear. Despite being clad entirely in black, Eva Green’s Miss Peregrine brings much-needed light and energy to the proceedings although she does have to do most of the heavy lifting with the exposition needed to let us know exactly what’s happening. She’s created a time-loop on this particular day – think Groundhog Day, just less interesting – enabling the children to live in safety, not age a day and escape the clutches of the evil and creepy Hollows and the dangerous Wights led by the terrifying Mr. Barron. Because this is a Tim Burton picture, Barron derives his power by eating the eyeballs of those with peculiar traits, leading to a scene that will either be described as gross or awesome, depending on the child you take along.
We’re given a tour of both the children’s abilities and the house and it’s grounds, leading you to think that it’s all rather a bargain-basement Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, just with kids that aren’t as cool and who dress in brown all the time.
As you would expect, it’s a feast for the eyes. Burton has ridden the CGI train with the best, and his invisible boy, a sinking swim to a rusting ship on the seabed and myriad other effects are as photorealistic and seamless as you would expect. But as we flit back between present day and World War II, countless opportunities to exploit all the anachronisms are missed or ignored, confusion sets in as to who is where and why and any smaller kids you take are likely to become bored. With a runtime just south of 2hrs and 10 minutes, is needs a lot more energy than it’s got. Ditching an injured Miss Peregrine for the denouement removes the best character from the most important bit and several parts – notably the scenes set in Blackpool Tower – feel as though they were filmed in a snatched lunchtime with one spotlight and look cheap and shoddy.
There is just enough here to keep your attention. Sam Jackson is incapable of turning in a boring performance and looks to be having fun but the children are more dull than peculiar for most of the time. Things are set up for a sequel but it’s doubtful this will generate enough at the box office to warrant one. Praise must be given for such an original story making it to the screen with such talent, and it is a better watch than Alice Through the Looking Glass, but frankly, we expected more Tim.