Tim Burton has not had the best track record lately, mainly because he panders to his own indulgence and it often seems like he’s stuck in the 90’s.
His new film Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children contains two elements that are emblematic of his work – a superhero arc and weird gothic imagery. The combo is potent enough for an entertaining watch, even if it doesn’t completely restore your faith in Burton.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is actually based on a 2011 Young Adult novel of the same name, and features most of the YA clichés: Young children thrust in an environment that requires them to grow up sooner than needed, the lack of parental guidance to shape them into human beings, a guardian angelic camp that helps these children in restoring their emotions, an oppressive dark power that plans to rip these children and their home apart, and one heroic teenager who will help thwart the evil oppressors and become the ultimate savior of the children-kind and reboot their lives.
In this case the children in question are called the ‘Peculiars’, and their leader is Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) who lives with the kids in an X Men like mansion. The twist here is that this whole establishment is a story told by an old man (Terrence Stamp) to his grand child Jake (Asa Butterfield) who embarks on a mission to find this place. When he does, he discovers that this mansion exists in some sort of a time loop that makes it permanently exist in the year 1943.
The good thing is the sheer variety of vintage Burton weirdness in the film. There’s a girl who can control the wind, a boy who can manipulate fire, another boy who can bring back the dead, an invisible kid and so forth. They all have the bittersweet weirdness found in Edward Scissorhands and they’re all treated with the same tragicomic emotional twang of that now classic character. Visually there is some truly imaginative stuff on display and the razzle-dazzle CGI is pretty pleasing to the eye in parts. If you have kids they’re going to have fun with simply the imagery on the screen. The ‘dark’ stuff is a little too scary for kids but adults who are in the mood for some unexpected twisted stuff can enjoy Samuel L Jackson as Mr Baron, the representative of the bad guys who want to kidnap and consume the kids for their special powers.
Two-thirds of the film is actually really interesting, but the final act devolves into a boring CGI filled action sequence that neither raises any stakes nor makes you afraid for the kids. Mainly because you are aware that the kids will not die in this seeing as this is being set up as a franchise. Moreover, the mythology of the film, regarding the time loops and the who’s and the why’s of the bad guys attacking the kids is pummeled out with the charm of droning voices, making the exposition a chore to sit through. The sense of wonder and mystery of the mansion and its madam is quickly replaced by a matter of fact recitation of the whole enigma.
But the biggest setback in the film is that this is yet another movie by Tim Burton about children who don’t fit in, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to see him traverse the same theme over and over again. It’s clear enough that all these films are about Burton himself never fitting in as a child, but now that it’s been dealt with perhaps the auteur should try taking some risks as a filmmaker, and indulge in genres he hasn’t tapped into before. As Scissorhands’ father himself would say, it’s never too late to reinvent, and dabble in something that isn’t a 3D spectacle. All you need is a heart.