I know I’ve said it before, but I enjoy reading young adult literature, from the popular “Harry Potter” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books to the more obscure, such as Diane Duane’s “Young Wizard” series or Brian Jacques’ “Redwall” books.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs is a book that has always interested me with its story about children with odd abilities as well as the inclusion of old-fashioned photographs from the author’s personal collection. Despite my interest, however, I never got around to reading it, so I was intrigued when it was announced that a big-screen adaptation was in the works. My curiosity about the project only increased when I found out Tim Burton (“Big Eyes,” “Alice in Wonderland”) was directing because the book seemed tailor-made for his style.
The film itself is a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it much more than I was even hoping I would, thanks to an interesting story, even more interesting characters and just the right mix of computer effects and real-world settings. I typically go to movies by myself, but I saw this one with a good friend of mine and he enjoyed it just as much as I did, so consider this review a double endorsement.
The story follows a teenager named Jake (Asa Butterfield, “Ender’s Game”), who lives in Florida. A personal tragedy sets him on a journey to discover more about his grandfather’s early life, specifically his time staying at a children’s home during World War II. This quest takes him to Wales, where he finds the remains of the children’s home, only to discover that its residents are actually living in a perpetual time loop back in 1943.
There Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, “Casino Royale”) looks after her charges, which include Emma (Ella Furnell, “Maleficent”), a girl whose ability involves controlling air. While at the home, Jake soon learns two things. First, both he and his grandfather have more in common with the peculiar children than he ever realized. Second, there is a group of monsters led by the evil Barron (Samuel L. Jackson, “The Legend of Tarzan”) who are hunting down these special children for a particularly horrifying reason.
Burton has been admittedly hit or miss with his movies lately, although he seemed to find his mojo again with the excellent “Big Eyes,” which was much more subdued and focused on the story rather than the visuals.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” definitely has a more outlandish story and characters than “Big Eyes,” but this film retains that restrained and almost subtle quality, especially compared to some of Burton’s other works like “Dark Shadows” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
There are surely plenty of special effects, especially once we meet the monsters hunting down the children and again when the third act really ramps up the action, but we never find ourselves in a situation where everything we’re seeing is computer generated like in “Alice in Wonderland.”
The sets are almost always real and that allows the characters and situations to get weird and even peculiar while keeping the overall story grounded. And it is that balance that makes the film feel more compelling and emotional.
The film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril.
(This is a abbreviated version of the full review available in our printed or e-edition papers.)