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Tim Burton Seems At Home With ‘Peculiar Children’ (Movie Review)

miss peregrine thumbPerhaps it was just a matter of time until we saw director Tim Burton make a YA novel adaptation. It makes plenty of sense, as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children allows Burton to explore an entire household filled with loners, outcasts and “freaks”, as opposed to focusing on just one. Instead of following just Edward [Scissorhands] or Ichabod, Burton works with the many characters found in Ransom Riggs’ novel, which has its share of wonder and peculiar kids. Typical of the YA novel sub-genre, it can mean the setup may be more interesting than the payoff, but it was fun to get a very Burton-y Tim Burton film again.

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This film plays around with time, but we begin in 2016 with Jake (Asa Butterfield), a Floridian teen who has always felt like an outcast. His story-telling grandfather, Abe Portman (Terence Stamp), dies a mysterious death, but leaves Jake a message to go to the island talked about in many of Abe’s stories. After traveling to a small island off the coast of Wales with his father (Chris O’Dowd), Jake ventures out on his own. He eventually discovers the home of Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her children who have all been dubbed “peculiars”.

That title applies for these kids, as they all have varying and often strange abilities ranging superhuman strength (which is of course seen in a little girl) to having an extra mouth hidden behind hair (again seen in another little girl). Working as a sort of Harry Potter-X-Men hybrid, the concept and eventual stakes should feel fairly straightforward. Jake has to decide whether he truly belongs with the other peculiars; A romantic interest in the form of Emma (Ella Purnell) takes shape; And there’s growing tension and a fight between the Peculiars and an outside threat that wants to destroy them (led by Samuel L. Jackson).

There’s no doubt a formula here and honestly that is fine. Rarely do YA novel adaptations or Burton, for that matter, stray from very basic story logic. ‘Miss Peregrine’ is also stuffed with exposition to complement the world-building, but it’s not all that distracting. If anything, it should be expected. Arriving in a new location that features at least ten characters with special powers should take some time to understand. This most certainly applies to the nature of the world, as the children exist in a time loop, where it is always September 3, 1943.

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Viewers will learn why that is the case and some praise is well-deserved for utilizing such a tricky time traveling device and making it work without overcomplicating things. With that in mind, while this is based on a YA novel and the story is not all that complicated, things do get quite dark. Fitting for Burton, we get some grisly murders, villains slurping down eyeballs and some genuine macabre humor to go with the typical Burton atmosphere you’d expect. It doesn’t hurt to see Burton clamping down on CG in favor of many practical locations and visual effects.

If anything, the movie finds itself in the most trouble when we get to the third act, which is swamped with CG-based action sequences. Some enjoyment can be had in watching Burton relish an opportunity to homage Jason and the Argonauts, as he employs moving skeletons to fight big beasts in a London amusement park, but there’s a tired feeling to seeing certain clever conceits pushed aside for big battles.

Most of the cast at least seems up to the challenge. Green may be getting top-billing, though she’s more or less the Charles Xavier of the film (with the addition of the best pipe since Hans Landa). Stamp is in fine form in one of his more lively performances in some time and the same can be said for Jackson, who relishes the chance to play a villain again. Butterfield and O’Dowd are sadly straddled with American accents, which seem to take away from their abilities to play up their quirkier qualities. The peculiar children are mostly good, even if the film doesn’t ask a whole lot from them.

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This is a Burton film, which means many of the characters are more like props than fully-fleshed out beings. Clearly that is not the best and without Burton’s usual tools (Depp, Bonham-Carter, Elfman) it can be something of a challenge for the director. However, while the film comes up lacking in having deeper resonance, it makes up for in some of the madcap fun and silliness. Yes, Miss Peregrine moves at a more laid-back pace than other Burton works, but the script by Kick-Ass and Stardust screenwriter Jane Goldman has enough clever bits to continually bring things together.

Miss Peregrine may be hindered a bit by the constraints of a YA novel adaptation, but Burton’s touch can go a long way. Especially when it comes to seeing the director back in true fantastical form, this is a film that has an enjoyable (and delightfully dark) attitude about itself. Not hurting is the amount of closure found by the end of this film (somewhat of a rarity for YA novel-films). Between the visuals and general flow, it may not be top-tier Burton, but it does find the director in his element and having fun.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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