Tim Burton’s latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is both a beneficiary and victim of its own ambition. The film takes place in a brand new, original, fascinating world that audiences will instantly fall in love with. But this world is so complex, the movie struggles to fit in a wholly satisfying story.
Things start with Jake (Asa Butterfield), a boy who thinks he’s normal, until tragedy strikes. As a result, he and his father (Chris O’Dowd) set out to explore their mysterious family history. This leads them to a small rural island where Jake discovers an alternate dimension and the characters of the title. That’s when the film really kicks into gear and Burton does what he does best: give us lush landscapes, vibrant characters, costumes, magical powers, and a super cool world that taps into almost every facet of fantasy imaginable.
However, Burton’s vision of Peregrine’s world is too dense for its own good. It’s chock full of mythology and backstory that requires massive amounts of exposition and set up. There are fascinating revelations and cool visuals, but it puts the main story of Jake and his family on pause. By the end, Miss Peregrine almost breaks into two acts: 75% setup, 25% payoff.
That payoff is very exciting, though, and it makes you wish Burton had made the movie a little longer as the characters finally get a chance to shine by using their peculiar powers. The downside is that the finale leans heavily on CGI after a mostly practical start, as well as some very out of place electronic music. It’s bafflingly incongruous with the rest of the film, although it’s that’s, thankfully, balanced out with the ingenuity of the scene, followed by a stellar ending.
As you’d expect in a Tim Burton movie, not only are the visuals gorgeous, the cast is outstanding (though not particularly diverse). As the title character, Eva Green bubbles off the screen with energy and charm. Samuel L. Jackson, as the villainous Mister Barron, turns in one of his best mainstream performances in recent years. If anything, the capable and steadfast Asa Butterfield is the weak link, not because he’s bad, but because he’s the boring “normal” kid in the middle of a wild and much more interesting cast of characters.
Despite its imbalance and glaring flaws, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is certainly a movie I’d recommend if only so we get to see more of this world in the future. All it needs is a bit more focus.