Tim Burton puts his unmistakable stamp on this admirable adaptation
It’s been a while since I was pleasantly surprised by a Young Adult adaptation. After a barrage of mediocre movies in this field, from The Maze Runner to The Mortal Instruments, I’ve grown to expect half-hearted attempts at decent stories, seemingly churned out to keep moviemakers’ pockets full. While Tim Burton’s take on Ransom Riggs’ debut novel is by no means groundbreaking, it’s a return to form for the renowned director with an aesthetically original story supported by a solid cast.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children doesn’t give much away in its elaborate title, but we soon learn Miss Peregrine’s home is a sanctuary of sorts for children gifted – or cursed, depending on your point of view – with special abilities. Some talents are more desirable than others, such as the ability to manipulate air over having a constant mouthful of bees or a monstrous mouth living in the back of your head. Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) herself has the sought-after ability to control time and uses this to suspend her sanctuary in a constant hidden loop in the past, so as to keep her children safe from the perils of this fantastical world.
Our protagonist is Jake (Asa Butterfield), a loveable American kid who doesn’t realise what awaits him when he travels to a remote island off the coast of Wales after his beloved grandfather (Terence Stamp) suspiciously dies. Having grown up listening to his grandfather’s tales of Miss Peregrine’s world, he longs to believe it exists despite pessimism from his father (Chris O’Dowd). What he finds alters both his past and future, as he learns there’s more to him than meets the eye.
Despite only being nineteen, Butterfield is no stranger to the screen – you might recognise him from Hugo or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or Ender’s Game, to name but a few. He’s a talented actor, undoubtedly with a lengthy career ahead of him, and holds his own as the likeable lead of Burton’s tale. Meanwhile, Green plays the intriguing Miss Peregrine with captivating charm that leaves us longing for a backstory we never quite get. The real surprise comes in the form of Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the maniacal villain Mister Barron. In true Burton style, Jackson is creepy with a good dose of camp, but with a surprising amount of comedy thrown into the mix. Undeniably, he’s the highlight of the movie and captivates every scene he’s in.
As for the aptly-named peculiar children of the title, they’re comprised of mainly unknown actors who prove their worth against the more renowned faces. Ella Purnell plays the weightless Emma Bloom, token love interest for Jake, with transfixing beauty and discreet confidence. Finlay MacMillan also gives a strong performance as Enoch O’Conner, the brooding outcast of the bunch who has his very own redemption arc within the story. However, not all of the children are given equal chance to shine, whether this be because of their age or their irrelevance to the overall plot. The movie doesn’t suffer as a result, though, as it may have been smothered by trying to develop too many characters.
What does let Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children down is the complexity of the story. Burton doesn’t provide much explanation as to why this alternative universe exists in the first place and we’re left with a lot of questions that go unanswered. Perhaps as an adaptation, it is arguably not his responsibility to fully explain the story that can be found in Riggs’ novel, but as a separate medium, it’s important to ground your story before diving into it. The villains’ motives are particularly poorly explained and we just have to accept that these monsters want the peculiars dead for some reason.
Regardless, Burton’s latest cinematic venture is one to be proud of. Putting his twisted signature on an already unusual tale, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a magical movie that takes great strides towards restoring my faith in Young Adult adaptations.