Watch out Professor Xavier, there is a new home for extraordinary youngsters just across the pond. Rather than mutants, they are peculiar and are led by Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine. Based on a best selling novel in 2011, this world was known for its eerie photographs and atmosphere. Was director Tim Burton able to recreate this world from page to screen? Let’s dive right in shall we?
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a young adult book written by Ransom Riggs that extends into a trilogy. The film follows the events of the first book. In it, protagonist Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield) witnesses the death of his grandfather, whom he was very close to. He heeds his last words that lead him to a small island in Wales to a mysterious children’s home. Here he unlocks his grandfather’s secrets and learns things about himself that he couldn’t even imagine. I have read this book many times and even met the author the year the film came out, so it is very close to my heart. I will try as best I can to judge the film on its own merit and not compare and contrast the book and the movie.
When I heard that Tim Burton was going to helm Ransom Riggs’s book, I was excited. These two seemed like a match made in heaven. But as I was watching the movie, I felt a slight disconnect, especially in the climax. Burton seemed to go the whimsical route over the atmospheric thriller route. Ransom Riggs’s book is peppered with antique photos curated from flea markets. Combined with Jacob’s narration, it gives some chills. Weirdly, Burton translates this to whimsy. When there are supposed to be chills, it feels forced and out of place in the whimsical environment. It really comes to a head during the climax. It feels more like a fun B movie than an eerie story. To illustrate my point, I have the book cover and the movie poster side-by-side.
This movie was such a let down, both as a Burton film and as an adaptation to an interesting book. The film’s pacing is very uneven. The beginning is slow, the middle feels about right, and the end is too fast. You don’t have time to get properly acquainted with the children. Granted, the first third of the book is very slow, letting us meet Jacob and follow his investigation to the island. The film felt much slower due to poor character development. Jacob is just a generic hero thrust into the peculiar’s world. For instance, Jacob asks Miss Peregrine a multitude of questions, mirroring our own questions. Rather than help us, Miss Peregrine simply ignores the questions and propels us to the next scene. It just felt sloppy.
I will say, my favorite parts were the peculiar children and Eva Green as Miss Peregrine. The children, especially the young ones, were very endearing. You feel their energy through their innocence and excitement. The older children were fine, but they felt more aged out and less exuberant compared to their younger peers. I wanted more of them showing Jacob their world. As for Miss Peregrine, the book describes her as a far older, bird-like woman. While Eva Green is a far cry from the book’s description, I grew to like her. She was a mesh of Johnny Depp and Mary Poppins, quirky and proper. I also enjoyed the design of the house and the loop demonstration.
Overall, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children misses the mark as a strong adaptation. Tim Burton has a great sense of style, but played it safe for this creepy book. While playing it safe, his quirky macabre style becomes traded for something more whimsical. It alters the tone that the book worked hard to establish. While there were some moments and characters I enjoyed, it wasn’t enough to save the movie. There is a good movie in there somewhere. I give Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children a C. Studios are having the worst track record with young adult book to movie adaptations. Maybe it’s time to stop?
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