Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 127 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This film based on the popular children’s book skews older in this adaptation, and would be best for tweens and older. A good amount of fantasy violence, with monsters who are all tongues and tentacles, a battle sequence between those monsters and reanimated skeletons, and some bullying and nightmarish imagery; some bullying; some kissing and young teen crushes; a few curse words; and adults smoke and drink.
The first installment of the popular children’s series gets the Tim Burton treatment in ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.’ The imagery is strong, but the film is overly complicated and flubs the ending.
By Roxana Hadadi
There couldn’t have been a better director choice for “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” than Tim Burton. The best-selling young adult book by Ransom Riggs, with its vintage photographs and its Gothic vibe, fits perfectly with Burton’s embrace-the-weird aesthetic. But the film has frustrating narrative shortcomings, and even the solid marriage of content and director can’t redeem its overly complicated plot and its profoundly irritating ending.
Burton has gone off the rails in recent years—like the utterly forgettable “Dark Shadows” and the horrible “Alice in Wonderland”—but “Miss Peregrine’s” is somewhat a return to form. The imagery is certainly enhanced by CGI, but it’s often beautiful and haunting: teenagers frolicking underwater in a sunken ship; a young girl floating in the air and tethered to the ground by a balloon; a woman transforming into a falcon and soaring through the air. Despite pacing issues and a problematic plot, those scenes will stick with you.
“Miss Peregrine’s” begins with the 16-year-old Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield, of “A Brilliant Young Mind”), a quiet, withdrawn teenager who doesn’t fit in with his Florida surroundings but who has a close relationship with his Polish grandfather, who has regaled him for years with stories of his time in a strange Welsh orphanage during World War II, with children with “peculiar” abilities. Jacob’s parents don’t believe the tales, but they bond together grandfather and grandson, and when Jacob finds his grandfather’s body—with his eyes gauged out—he’s devastated.
Desperate for closure, Jacob is encouraged by his therapist to visit the island in Wales so that he can see the place for himself and deal with his grief. But when he arrives, the dilapidated orphanage doesn’t seem so abandoned—instead, there are children with a variety of abilities living there, like levitation, super-strength, a stomach full of bees, and a head with a mouth in the back of it. These are the “peculiars” Jacob’s grandfather told him about, and they haven’t aged a day.
This mixture of past and present, Jacob learns, is a time loop engineered by Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green, of “Dark Shadows”), who runs the orphanage. Every day is September 23, 1943, because that’s when German bombs would have landed on the orphanage, killing everyone, so Miss Peregrine has found a way to both isolate the “peculiars” from the outside world and keep them safe forever.
And now that Jacob is here, they don’t want him to leave—and he doesn’t, either, when he finally feels like he belongs and develops a crush on the beautiful, wide-eyed Emma (Ella Purnell, of “Maleficent”), whom he recognizes from his grandfather’s stories.
But the “peculiars” aren’t truly safe because they’re being hunted by Baaron (Samuel L. Jackson, of “The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron”) and his army of monsters, who want to sink their lengthy tentacles and pointy teeth into the children’s eyeballs. So it’s up to Jacob, Emma, Miss Peregrine, and the rest of the children to protect themselves from Baaron and his minions—even if it means abandoning the time loop that has kept them safe for so long.
Too many young-adult novels suffer from lengthy backstories and unnecessarily complicated plot machinations, and “Miss Peregrine’s” unfortunately falls within that category. There are too many details here and too many late-revealed twists, and the narrative becomes convoluted and irritating far before the film wraps up. There are a lot of “being weird is better than being normal” themes going on here, and while that may be reassuring to viewers who have been bullied for being different, how the film stumbles over its own ending seems to undercut its own messaging about growth and self-acceptance.
Nevertheless, “Miss Peregrine’s” isn’t the worst Burton movie of recent years: Green’s performance is charming and warm; some of the imaginative, melancholy scenes will stick with viewers; and fans of the book should be pleased by how it is adapted for the big screen. There are missteps in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” but they’re not as catastrophic as they could be—and at this point in Burton’s career, that’s kind of a compliment.
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