I saw Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
TL;DR a pretty, but bland film based on yet another young adult urban fantasy book. Grade C.
This story is notable to me for a great performance by Terence Stamp as “Crazy Old Grandpa” in the first several minutes.
I think it would be informative to read the original book this movie was based on.
As it is, I really can only judge it on it’s own merits.
You can see what the studio wanted. It wanted a Harry Potter like franchise. Which is weird, because Burton doesn’t like sequels and he is not a “franchise” kind of guy. I guess they were hoping he’d get a solid hit and justify a journeyman coming in and following up.
The story has several Burton tropes. This is why I think reading the original book would be informative.
The Burton trope here is that a gothy teenage boy is secretly the chosen one and his family is mired in and fixated on “normalcy” to the point where they miss the boy’s specialness. But an elderly relative knows and encourages the boy to find his true special self. In this case his name is Jacob, played with earnest dorkiness by Asa Butterfield.
This move does an okay job with it. Not something outstanding or particularly memorable. Just Okay.
The other Tim Burton Trope in play here is that there are people who are secretly monsters, but they’re just misunderstood. They hide because the normals would react very poorly to seeing such weirdos affront their normalness.
The Movie sets up a world where there are “Peculiars” people for whom “Abnormal” is a vast understatement.
The world building here really falls apart. The Peculiars live in tiny enclaves, created and maintained by bird women. These enclaves are pockets of time. So it’s time travel story…. sort of.
These places form nearly perfect hide outs. The Peculiars live the same day over and over and over again. Even if they make terrible mistakes or become terribly destructive, it doesn’t count because at the end of the day, time rewinds and they do the same day over again, and all the people not in the know are reset back to the beginning.
There are bad guys. Samuel Jackson takes a journeyman like turn as peculiar who, with a group of others have discovered that can attain immortality, or close to it, by eating the eyes of Peculiars. This is as disturbing as it sounds.
So there is a long term fight in play where Bird Women try to hide their time loops and the cannibal monsters try to find them.
Jake’s Grandfather, who encouraged Jake, was a Peculiar who left the time loop to find and battle these cannibal monsters. His peculiarity was that he could see them. Usually they were invisible to everyone else. This is why Jake’s grandfather was living outside of the loop and looked insane to everyone.
Jake knows nothing of this and it’s only revealed in dribs and drabs as the movie goes along. For some reason, Miss Peregrine seems really taken with Jake while offering him absolutely zero useful information.
So Jake wheedles and connives to go to Wales (From Florida) and track down the things his Grandfather was telling him.
He encounters the Peculiars and visits their time loop.
Now, here, the children and Miss Peregrine are depicted… interestingly. They have been living the same day, over and over since 1943. At the end of the day a German Bombing raid destroys the house they’re living in. So every night they gather, watch the bomb drop and destroy their house, and then the time loop rewinds and it’s the same day again.
They never age. Ella, who becomes Jakes Love interest almost immediately, explains that, if they leave the loop, after a bit the time will catch up with them. It’s been so long that for most it’s a death sentence and even for the youngest, well, suddenly north of 75 years old.
So they’re stuck. And if Jake stays, he’d be stuck too.
They’ve been trapped in a time loop, cut off from the outside world with only each other for company, always stuck at the same age for 70 years.
Jacob is a breath of fresh air and brings word from the outside world, but is prevented from sharing by Miss Peregrine, who’s policy is “We don’t ask about the future”
There is a hint of the insanity that would result from this, but only a hint.
Well with one thing and another, Jake elects to leave buy accidentally leads the bad guys to the loop, and adventure ensues. The Bird Ladies are called “Ymbryne”. They can bend time and turn into birds. Why they all wind up taking care of flocks of Peculiars is not explained to my satisfaction, but there you go.
Judi Dench shows up (Criminally under used here) as a bird lady who’s loop was invaded and all her children killed by the bad guys.
The bad guys have a master plan that involves capturing and sucking the magic out of several Ymbryne.
Jackson’s “Barron” succeeds in over running the time loop, capturing Miss Peregrine and making off to do his evil thing.
Jacob and the Peculiars survive by the skin of their teeth and Jacob being both clever and able to see the “wights” when no one else can. They bear a strong similarity to the Slenderman character.
Jacob rallies the Peculiar Children and leads them on a desperate mission to recover Miss Peregrine before time catches up to them and they all age to death.
This is handled well. It’s an exciting sequence.
In the end they rescue Miss Peregrine.
The Girl, Ella, her peculiarity is that she’s basically an air elemental. Without heavy weighted shoes, she’d float away. To reach high objects, they tie a rope to Ella and she balloons up to grab it.
Later in the movie we see her true power. She can exhale insane amounts of fresh air, and control where the air goes.
One of the most “Oh, COME ON!” moments of the film is when Ella refloats a wrecked ship that has lain on the bottom of the ocean for 30 years. Then the other children get the boilers fired up and the ship steams away.
At the end of this movie this impossible ship is now their home, and presumably, the rescued Miss Peregrine will establish a new Time Loop to save all their lives.
So yeah, the world building here is a worse mess than Harry Potter.
Even the Percy Jackson series does better.
Some of the characters were interesting.
I’d cheerfully watch a sequel on DVD. Not at a theater though.
The look on this one is very well done typical demented circus you’ve come to expect from Tim Burton.
You could almost summarize this one as “The Addam’s Family Battles Slenderman at a Carnival.”
Someone needs to sit down with Burton and work through his tropes with him. They’re gettiing stale. His “Jacob” character goes from a sullen goth-nerd to a hero. His most interesting development actually happens off screen!
The problem with Burton subverting this trope is that for him this is biographical. Unappreciated Goth Nerd finds his inner director and makes piles of money directing a bunch of movies some of which actually move popular culture and the awareness of hundreds of millions of people.
(As opposed to Mars Attacks where the Nerdy Goth Kid and his lovably insane grandma save the world with Slim Whitman records)
So saying “The Goth-Kid-becomes-the-hero-thing is a touch stale, how could we challenge this?”
Not only does Burton have a stack of films but his own life story says “Nope! Goth-Nerd-Becomes-The-Hero is a thing!”
In some ways it fit Alice of Alice in Wonderland much better. There’s a sequel to that one I haven’t gotten around, to yet, either.
I guess the difference is that in Alice in Wonderland, Alice is a nerdy girl, but she’s about half sliding into the role of passive victim. The events of the film (Written as a follow on to Carroll’s original story) have Alice break out of her passiveness and find her inner hero and then take that back to Edwardian England, and putting it into action there, which is a much stiffer place for a woman to be true to her inner hero.
This is a thing in Young Adult fiction. The hero is where the reader identifies so the message is “Be true to yourself and you will find your inner hero.” So all the books are about a plucky young person putting that lesson into action.
But I’d also like to see that challenged. “What does it mean to be the hero? How do you good guy?”
Anyway. I think the movie generated enough positive cash flow to warrant a sequel. On the other side its opening was a bit sluggish and the critical reception was “mixed”
For me, this was a collection of lego pieces to steal for a hypothetical Harry Potter type RPG scenario.
I give it a straight C.
Like I say, I’ll watch a sequel on DVD, but no more.