Sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield) travels to a Welsh island called Cairnholm in the aftermath of his grandfather Abe’s death. The two were close. Jacob chooses the island because it is the setting of the fantastic tales Abe told his grandson. The tales focused on a home for peculiar children run by a Miss Peregrine. The children have talents and abilities far greater than those of mere mortals. One boy is invisible. One girl can float if she isn’t held down by massive metal shoes. According to Abe this all happened during World War 2. As Jacob grows, he is disappointed to see Abe’s stories as a kind of personal fairytale, rather than reality. His journey to Cairnholm is a way to re-connect with his late grandfather.
Jacob is on the island for a day, when he discovers how much of Abe’s accounts were factual. He meets Miss Peregrine and discovers that she and her charges are living in a strange locked bubble of time. Inside the bubble it’s still 1943 and the war still rages. But the peculiars have an even more immediate threat to deal with. Jacob has to decide whether to help the children in their battle or to live in the normal world he comes from.
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN is based on the best-selling debut novel by Ransom Riggs. The film adaptation is directed by Tim Burton. The subject matter is supernatural and the setting, a remote school in wartime, has a dark feel to it, so the gothic stylings of Hollywood’s veteran visual fantasist are a good fit for the material. Since Helena Bonham Carter is no longer rocking the Victorian garb in Burton’s flicks, Eva Green, who is expert at channeling an eerie 19th Century vibe thanks to television’s Penny Dreadful, steps up as the titular Miss Peregrine. Although the home is locked into 1943, the architecture, furnishings and indeed Miss Peregrine’s manner, is from an earlier era.
Burton is not always a stickler for story, although he can execute a dramatic tale if the material leads him. The excellent BIG EYES (2014), his biopic of Margaret Keane, is an example of this. MISS PEREGRINE has a story that will remind viewers of Harry Potter and the X-Men. Screenwriter Jane Goldman has written for two X-Men films and STARDUST, so is well-credentialed in creating fantastic worlds. There is a lot of detail to this tale and for the most part, Burton brings it forth.
The movie clocks in at a hefty 127 minutes and some of that bloat is in the final battle (as in every popcorn film with an action resolution of the past decade), however the young cast is energetic and engaging and their peculiar powers are fun. This film will absolutely entertain a youthful audience. Note it is rated M.
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN is in Australian cinemas now, in time for the school holiday. (7/10)