Ms Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (dir. Tim Burton, 2016) – After a family tragedy, Jacob Portman takes a trip with his father to a remote island, where he uncovers a mystery that defies time and reality.
Feeling right at home with the peculiar children, Tim Burton regains his footing in fantasy and delivers a charming albeit bland fairy tale.
The extraordinary lives among us, if you know where to look. A flock of eleven rests in the nest of Ms Peregrine (Eva Green), a Ymbryne with her own special ability to manipulate a time loop of the perfect day. Jake (Asa Butterfield) makes a dozen as he comes upon their hidden refuge, less a ‘where’ than ‘when’. Back in 1943, he uncovers not only his very own peculiarity, but the harrowing truth behind his grandfather’s death.
Ransom Riggs’ Ms Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children feels like the perfect material for fantasy maestro Tim Burton. Eccentric misfits, gothic adornments and vexing adults with no love for the young ‘uns – the fitting elements swirl together like a natural concoction.
Taking place through the eyes of Jake, the modern fairy tale spends much time on his estranged relationship with his father Franklin (Chris O’Dowd). Unfortunately, this meanders and never quite goes anywhere. It is in the latter period that Tim Burton finds his place and revives striking elegance of a long lost time. Accompanying his vision, Mike Higham and Matthew Margeson’s beautiful composition sets the mood.
There, the charming children let loose their awe-inspiring wonders with abandon, in the safety of their mansion. From Wells-inspired invisibility to prophetic dreams, their varied powers make for brilliant visual marvels. A little darkness seeps through in young necromancer Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), whose power leads to some alluringly chimerical stop-motion magic.
Barring their supernatural abilities, the characters disappointingly never feel quite complete. Their stories seem to start and end with the orphanage, a flaw that the sequels may hope to fix. Most focus befalls Jake and his requited romance with Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), a predictably sweet affair if lacking in chemistry.
Their time of peace ends when the nasty Hollowgasts appear. In search of time loops, intimidating humanoid creatures want the flesh and blood of peculiars that will give them eternal life. Mr Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) leads with his transformative power and a penchant for sharp objects. But his menace never quite sustains. Criminal for the sole sake of immortality, the adversaries leave no room for sympathy, thought or tension.
As a result, the unambiguous divide of good and evil never leaves much of a mark. Instead, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children opts for a simplistic fairy tale with a rather predictable finale. Even so, not all is lost. The fun family movie still manages to soar notches above Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, mounting to Tim Burton’s most entertaining work in years.