It’s not because I loved the book (click here to read my short yet dissatisfied review) that I had high hopes for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. A movie version, directed by the very creative Tim Burton, and featuring a cast of excellent actors including one of my favourites, Eva Green, as the titular Miss Peregrine, could have overcome some of the deficiencies of the book. Unfortunately, while the concept of a secret home for a group of children with odd supernatural abilities still remains an imaginative and intriguing idea, the sensory thrill of the movie did not give the characters any more depth nor did the plot make any more sense than when they were merely on the page.
The story focuses primarily on Jake, a teenager who arrives too late to save his grandfather from being killed by an invisible monster that only he can see. Jake’s parents don’t believe the far-fetched story either, but to help him deal with his grief, Jake’s father agrees to take him to Wales to visit a special children’s home where his grandfather grew up and which featured prominently in the many stories that he told Jake as a child. Jake is disappointed when he arrives to find a bombed-out ruin. However, he’s later guided by a bizarre group of children to a magical place where the home is intact and hidden away in time.
As a director with a unique style, Burton used something of a light touch on this movie. The story itself seemed right up his alley and I expected an added dash of “peculiar” coming from him. Asa Butterfield plays Jake in what seems to be the continuation of a brief tour of misunderstood young heroes that he’s portrayed in movies such as Hugo, and Ender’s Game. The character of Jake is also part of a long line of dark-haired, gawky, young boys with a special destiny (see also Harry Potter, Charlie Bucket — of chocolate-factory fame, Ender Wiggin, and Percy Jackson, to name some of the more recently popular ones). The theme of whether he is truly “special” is one that is on Jake’s mind, but it’s not until the climactic showdown, when the children are being pursued by monsters and bad guys, that we find out that he is actually pretty special.
The rest of the story is a bit disjointed. In sunnier moments, we get to learn something about each of the charmingly “peculiar” children, whose abilities range from being lighter than air, to having a mouth in the back of your head, to having a swarm of bees living inside you, to projecting your dreams like a movie, to being able to animate the inanimate. Unfortunately, (except for a couple of teen romances) we never spend enough time with the children in order to know them beyond their peculiarities, so they stay quite flat as characters. Too much time is wasted on Jake and his family issues instead. Similarly, Eva Green gives great over-pronunciation as the serious yet loving Miss Peregrine, protector of the peculiar, but she doesn’t have much screen time and we don’t know much about her either. So the story leaves many questions not only unanswered, but unasked, and we’re just supposed to be swept along by a tale of children in peril from some monstrous creatures and people (also very poorly explained) who want to destroy them. In those less-sunny moments, Samuel L. Jackson (who also apparently hasn’t met a movie franchise that he didn’t love) hams it up as a monstrous, shape-changing villain with white eyes who commands a group of super-tall, eyeless, invisible monsters.
For some reason the original novel has been a worldwide bestseller, but I think it was pretty weak source material for a movie franchise. I’m sure it would have taken way too much effort for Burton and the others to fill in all the details needed to truly complete the story, all the while creating the kind of magical sensory experience of the movie as well. That’s too bad, because I think the extra work could have turned a 2.5-star book into a 5 star movie. Now we’re just splitting the difference (3.5 out of 5)