Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Despite all the magic flaunted in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” based on the novel by Ransom Riggs and directed by Tim Burton, why doesn’t it feel magical? Part of the answer is because it fails to choose a specific target audience. Too scary for younger children and not dark enough for pre-teens, it ends up somewhere between. What results is a watchable fantasy-adventure but far from a memorable one. It is without a doubt, however, that the material has the potential to become a series that can get better given a more detailed writing, more focused direction, and an approach that doesn’t hold back out of fear that the final product isn’t family-friendly enough.
Let us consider the title character played by Eva Green. The performer exudes the look of intrigue, perhaps even a sinister layer or two beneath those knowing dark eyes and curious smirk, but the writing has a frustrating habit of making Miss Peregrine friendlier just when we feel we are about to discover a surprising trait or perspective from her. As someone who has the power to control time, the children’s home and way of life perpetually stuck in 1943, Miss Peregrine is not convincing in her wisdom and role as protector of children born with abilities—such as being able to control fire, air, plants, and the like. The character is diluted when in fact the material demands that she be as extreme as possible since she anchors the strange universe we observe from the outside.
Another character, equally important, that is watered down, but in a different way, is Jake, the grandson of a man who used to live with Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children but, due to the Second World War, has since left the home and grown old. Portrayed by Asa Butterfield, he has the lanky body frame and awkward postures that fit well in this particular story but I did not feel a certain enthusiasm, a wondrous feeling, in the portrayal. Since Jake is our conduit to the magical world of time loops and bizarre abilities, Butterfield does not exude a sort of warm and inviting feeling. The Jake who becomes a leader during the final stretch of the film is most unconvincing; the evolution rings false.
In terms of its images, the special and visual effects impress. For instance, the look of so-called Hollowgasts with their gargantuan frames, eyeless heads, shark-like teeth, long tongues, and reptilian movements creep thoroughly and convincingly. Eyeless corpses we come across once in a while command a certain tragic lifelessness to them. (The Hollows love to eat eyes—especially those of children.) In addition, the look of the children’s home on the Welsh island in 1943 is colorful, bright, detailed, and inviting. If only the same adjectives could be used to describe each person who lives there. They are reduced to superficial traits.
Based on the screenplay by Jane Goldman, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” has room for considerable improvement. Although far from an impressive start of a potential series, small but critical shifts in terms of mood, tone, characterization, and willingness to take risks might turn an otherwise forgettable material into a work with a specific voice and perspective about the current state of our world and ourselves. Looking at the big picture, the story is about “peculiars” or outcasts and their place, or lack thereof, in this world and this time period. This subject is ripe for social commentary.