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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Chris O'Dowd, Samuel L. Jackson, Terence Stamp, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Georgia Pemberton, Milo Parker, Raffiella Chapman, Pixie Davies, Joseph Odwell, Thomas Odwell, Cameron King, Allison Janney, Judi Dench, Kim Dickens, Louis Davison

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril)

Running Time: 2:07

Release Date: 9/30/16


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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 29, 2016

The notion of the reality of monsters bookends Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. At the start, the question is whether monsters—specifically the ones within a man's stories of his past to his grandson—are real or imaginary. The boy's father concludes that they are both. The monsters are a creation of his own father's imagination, but that's only because there were actual monsters in the world.

The fiction was a way for the grandfather to make the horrors of the real world slightly more palatable for his grandson. The grandfather emigrated from Poland to the United Kingdom before the start of World War II. How can a man explain such things to a young boy, but how, in good conscience, can a man who knows such things not inform the next generation of the horrific truths of the past?

The boy is Jake (Asa Butterfield), who lives in bland and sunny Florida (A sudden cut from the monochrome opening title sequence, accompanied by eerie music, to a bright, deserted beach is one of the movie's funniest moments). He was raised with bedtime stories from his grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp). The stories weren't exclusively about the monsters, though. They were primarily about the strange orphanage, located on an island off the coast of Wales, where a younger Abraham made his home after fleeing the encroaching systematic oppression and mass murder that would define his homeland for six years.

The tales were especially about the other residents of the home, each of whom had unique abilities. One girl could create fire from her hands. Another could lift things that weighed considerably more than her. There was an invisible boy and a girl who would float away, if not for her lead shoes. The caretaker could transform into a bird.

Abraham is killed in a violent assault that leaves him without eyes. With his dying breath, the grandfather tells Jake to find answers from a bird. Jake is convinced he saw a tall creature in the woods behind his grandfather's home, so Jake's parents (Chris O'Dowd and Kim Dickens) send their son to a therapist (Allison Janney). Eventually, the boy and his doctor decide that it might be best for him to visit the orphanage of Abraham's past, if only to put the bedtime stories behind him.

When Jake does locate the orphanage, he discovers it had been destroyed by a German bombing raid during the war. The trick, it turns out, is that the home, in all of its former glory, is still accessible, thanks to the caretaker's ability to manipulate time, creating a temporal loop in which the people within it keep repeating the same day over and over again. She and other "Ymbyrnes" across the globe and across time do the same thing, in different places and at different points in time, for their own "peculiars."

This caretaker is Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green), and Jake meets all of her peculiar children. Emma (Ella Purnell) is the floating girl. Olive (Lauren McCrostie) can create fire, and Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) can bring inanimate things to life and resurrect the dead (He has a morbid sense of humor about it, as he forces his creations to fight and hints that he did similar things at his parents' funeral home). There are Hugh (Milo Parker), a boy with bees that live in his body, and Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone), who can project his dreams by putting a lens over his eye. Obviously, the invisible boy (Cameron King) is real, too.

Jane Goldman's screenplay, which adapts Ransom Riggs' novel, spends a good deal of time simply allowing us to follow the peculiars as they go about their same-day routine. Director Tim Burton, that lover of all things eccentric, is clearly enamored with these odd characters, but even while he shows off the peculiars' various powers, the director maintains an air of melancholy to the proceedings. There's a lot of grieving just beneath the surface—Jake for his grandfather (who is still alive and well in this time), of course, but also the peculiar kids for the knowledge that there are places and entire lives that they will never experience.

Burton is at his best when there is such a feeling of regretful, mournful longing beneath the showy, Gothic surface of the material with which he's working. The lengthy section of Jake meeting and getting to know the peculiars, along with returning to the present day to find that strange things are happening then, feels like that best version of Burton. This part succeeds because it exists only to explore these characters and their uniquely, well, peculiar dilemma.

Alas, the sense of genuine discovery and unhindered exploration cannot last, because, after all, if the peculiar kids of Abraham's stories are real, that means the monsters are real, too. The need for a strict plot, unfortunately, trumps the simple but engaging wonder of spending time with these characters. The other bookend of the movie returns to those real monsters, as we're introduced to a generic villain (played by Samuel L. Jackson) with an equally generic and convoluted plan to use the peculiars to take over the world. After the genuine wonder of the introductory acts of this story, the long, plot-heavy resolution of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children seems so much the duller.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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