Miss Peregrine’s is Dark but Unspectacular

September 30, 2016

Photo: IMDb

On a tiny grey island in Wales, there is a colorful home for children. These children are peculiar; they have unique qualities that make it hard for them to live in the ordinary world. From the girl who floats on air to the boy who can reanimate corpses, Miss Peregrine keeps them all hidden away in her magical sanctuary. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children employs director Tim Burton’s characteristically dark approach to fantasy to immerse audiences in an adventure, but this narrative ultimately does not prove compelling due to the film’s flat characters.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, based on the book of the same name, focuses on Jake, a boy who lives a boring life in an ordinary Florida suburb. Following the mysterious death of his grandfather, he decides to travel to Wales to find Miss Peregrine herself and learn more about his grandfather’s unusual life. There Jake finds the children from his grandfather’s stories and discovers a peculiarity of his own—as young-adult fantasy novel protagonists are wont to do. With his ability to see the invisible monsters that are hunting his friends, Jake must navigate this strange new world to save Miss Peregrine and peculiar children everywhere.

Eva Green’s performance as Miss Peregrine is remarkable, conveying her character’s otherworldly shrewdness and grace. Green is as essential to the movie as Miss Peregrine is to the plot. Miss Peregrine is an “ymbryne,” a powerful kind of “peculiar” charged with caring for children because of their ability to create a time loop—a repeating instance of a particular day. Burton described her to Entertainment Weekly as a scary Mary Poppins, but she does not come off as scary so much as motherly. She is fearsome, to be sure, but only in the way a protective mother can be. Green is wholly convincing, and when the villain forcibly takes her from her children, it’s Miss Peregrine’s sadness that compels the audience to sympathize with them.

What makes this movie entertaining is how it immerses the viewer in the world of “peculiars” through its visuals and sound. Burton uses color to establish the magical nature of Miss Peregrine’s: the verdant grounds around the house contrast shockingly with the overcast dullness of the surrounding Welsh island, and the inside of the home is richly decorated with 40s decor. The selective use of color creates an atmosphere of fantasy reminiscent of Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland. The resplendent sets around Miss Peregrine’s home also lend themselves to contrast with the villains, who cast an ominous darkness over their own scenes. The score also complements the story very well, with music by Michael Higham (Inception) and Matthew Margeson (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) swelling at key moments to move viewers to elation or trepidation.

Despite the pleasant feeling of adventure, the story in Miss Peregrine’s is uncomplicated and easily resolved, and the characters are not very well developed. Perhaps due to its being based on a novel, the film sacrifices depth for breadth. The villains are not introduced until late in the movie, and they are only cartoonishly evil. Mr. Barron, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is on a generic mission to kill the peculiar children in his pursuit of immortality, and his assorted henchmen border on buffoonish.

Even the main characters—Emma, and especially Jake—are stilted and flat. Jake saves the children regardless of his complete lack of skills, and develops a romance with Emma for no apparent reason other than the movie being of the young-adult genre. When two of the other children also declare their love, it feels as if the writers are merely trying to check all the novel’s boxes. Despite this, the film’s charm will likely overpower a viewer’s disbelief, so audiences shouldn’t be too bothered by the slightly shallow story.

In conclusion, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a pleasant and enjoyable movie where the kids beat the bad guys and save the day. Burton creates a fun adventure for audiences, who get swept up in the magic of the lovable peculiar children. But as with so much magic in our world, if you focus hard enough, you can’t help but see the strings.

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