The preamble to Tim Burton’s latest, a fantasy novel adaptation, introduces a multi-faceted allegorical fable that mixes grief, childhood imagination, and Holocaust fears into a hideaway fantasy realm. Miss Peregrine’s (Eva Green) children’s home remains perpetually in September 3, 1943, the day when a German air raid bombed the building out.
Jake (Asa Butterfield), a lonely boy in his own right, travels to find the home (in 2016) following the death of his grandfather (Terence Stamp), a former resident of the home. Through way of the cavernous entrance into a time loop, Jake finds the home and its variously “peculiar” residents.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is Tim Burton at his finest. The director works best when his lavish fantasies are grounded in a layer of realism, no matter how superficial that level may be. Here, Burton works within these boundaries quite adeptly.
The production design is WWII period piece with a twist, but it is a twist never over-exerted as some of Burton’s latest have fallen victim to. Attention to detail in mise-en-scene is still evident, though, and it yields some good tonal cues. Even the effects feel like a throwback to ’90s-era stop motion. It isn’t exactly stop motion, but it is a special effects approach that embraces its fabricated appearance, to good effect.
Miss Peregrine’s is a children’s fantasy with dense subtext (relative to your average children’s film, mind you). The narrative bleeds the woes of isolation, an isolation apparent in the protagonist, the time period, and the fantastical “peculiars.” This thematic intrigue is but a cherry on the top of an original story (base-level connections to X-Men notwithstanding) that is delightfully macabre.
The acting from a predominately young cast is remarkably strong. Butterfield leads the charge with only a few stumbles, and others fall into purposefully one-note roles with little struggle. Supporting roles from Samuel L. Jackson and Stamp help the cause, and Green does a satisfactory job even when her performance becomes a tad too reminiscent of Helena Bonham Carter in a Burton role.
Miss Peregrine’s is an inspired fantasy rendition with enough energy and stylistic integrity to reassert Burton’s reputation as an auteur. Indeed, it is Burton’s best movie in a number of years. Certain blatant hiccups during the lengthy climax (that heavy soundtrack during a pivotal action sequence, for one) hamper the final narrative push, but the whole encapsulation is a satisfying adventure into the ostracized unified.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: B
I know this is a PG-13 feature. Still, I am labeling Miss Peregrine’s as a children’s film because that is what it is. It may skew a tad dark (removing eyeballs from character’s faces plays a key role), but it is a story meant to preach the merits of being the odd one, a story meant for children to hear.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)