Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Kim Dickens, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp

I go into each Tim Burton movie with the hope that it feels like the Tim Burton I grew up on. I want that gothic and morose look with that gentle love for the innocent characters at hand. 2012’s Frankenweenie was a nice surprise sandwiched between lesser films like Big Eyes, Alice in Wonderland, and Dark Shadows. He’s been relying too heavily on gimmicky 3D effects and questionable Johnny Depp performances. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is that welcome return home for Burton that I’ve been waiting for. Based on the popular book by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine is a story of a grandfather and his grandson and the special bond between them. As a child, Jake (Butterfield) was told bedtime stories by his grandfather (Stamp) about the monsters and creatures he came across when he lived at a children’s home under the tutelage of Miss Peregrine (Green). They had a special relationship even though Jake’s parents (Dowd and Dickens) were always skeptical of the stories Grandpa told. Upon his mysterious death, Grandpa warns Jake to return to 1943 and learn more about these monsters. Jake’s therapist (Janney) believes a trip to Cairnholm to see the old home may be the closure Jake needs to cope with his grandfather’s death.

His parents reluctantly agree to take him there for a quick look around of the grounds. His dad decides to remain back at the pub and pays off some local teens to take Jake to Miss Peregrine’s Home. Jake arrives at a dilapidated mansion that’s barely standing up. It’s been a pile of ruins for many years with vines and shrubs growing all around the property. A few children appear and all of a sudden Jake finds himself in a time loop from September 3, 1943 when the mansion was thriving. He is introduced to a variety of children all whom have a special ability. There’s the little boy that has bees swarming around inside of him, the cute little girl with a dangerous set of chompers in the back of her head, an older teen girl who is as light as air and needs steel boots to keep her grounded, and an invisible boy just to name a few. Even Miss Peregrine herself has the ability to morph into the bird she is named after. Jake is introduced to a whole new side of his grandpa that he never knew.

The exposition portion of the film caught my eye as strong Burton’s films typically do thanks to the specific look he gives to his environments. The Florida neighborhood where Jake, Grandpa, and his family reside has that suburban feel that brought me right back to the streets and homes used in Edward Scissorhands. It was that initial reaction that made me think Burton was going back to his roots. The bright and pristine look to Florida provides a stark contrast to Scotland’s dark and rainy world where Miss Peregrine’s home was located. Hedge animals are also featured on the grounds of the mansion and were also featured prominently in Scissorhands. Burton relies once again on frequent collaborator Colleen Atwood whose costumes accurately depict the period and have a sense of architecture to aid in that classic Burton environment.

Burton has a capable cast on his hands. For someone who tends to reuse actors he has worked with before, it’s refreshing to see some new faces in his company. Child actor Asa Butterfield leads the film as Jake. He may be familiar to audience members who saw 2011’s Hugo or Elder’s Game from 2013. Samuel L. Jackson gives a cartoony performance as Barron, the film’s main villain. It’s over the top to match his crazy white hair, hallowed eyes, and razor sharp teeth. Judi Dench and Allison Janney also appear but are a bit underutilized given their scene stealing capabilities. Last, but not least, is Eva Green who previously appeared in Dark Shadows. She is simply enchanting as the title character. She keeps Miss Peregrine a bit of a mystery leaving you to wonder what tricks she has up her sleeve.

I haven’t read the YA novels by Ransom Riggs, but the idea of kids with unique traits living in a home bears a similar vibe to the X-Men characters. I don’t know if it was a purposeful choice or not but screenwriter Jane Goldman has written two of the recent X-Men films as well as Stardust and Kingsman: The Secret Service. There is also a bit of Harry Potter’s magical fantasy type elements swirled in for those that prefer that take on YA versus the dystopian, anti-government type. Like many of Burton’s films it straddles the line of being too violent and dark for kids despite it looking like a kid’s movie. It’s not all that scary or morose, but parents should take caution of how young their kids are before bringing them in.

For those that can handle the material, it taps into a child’s sense of wonder with places and worlds unlike their own. Jake is an open-minded character ready to explore and learn about the kids he meets at Miss Peregrine’s. For those looking for the film’s deeper meanings outside of it’s fun visual effects and peculiar children, it’s a story full of adventure, mystery, and looking into our grandparents’ past to learn more about where we came from. It can hopefully provide an intersecting perspective to kids about what we can you learn about yourself when you look back to the past. I think Tim Burton does well when he has films that focus on misunderstood characters. I think he can tap into those inner emotions of outcasts who feel like they don’t fit in with societal norms. While it’s not as personally touching or heartbreaking like Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands or some of his other films, the messages still come across. I think many kids out there can relate to this concept.

The ending to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children sets up for a potential series to tackle the other Ransom Riggs books. I wouldn’t mind seeing more from these characters. This may not be prime Tim Burton, but it feels more in line with the films he’s best remembered for as opposed to the CGI and Johnny Depp heavy films that have made up the second half of his career.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Should appeal to families, Burton fans, and those that love the books



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