Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

There is a character in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" who can bring toys to life and reanimate the dead. The effect is temporary and a crude imitation of life, magical puppetry by which a shell can serve a purpose before disappearing without consequence. I enjoyed my time with Miss Peregrine and her students, but I can't shake the feeling that they (and because so the film itself) are similarly superficial - fantastical and weird but singularly defined by peculiarity to the point of having no meaningful character at all. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Jake, a perfectly ordinary (or is he?) teen who once dreamt of exploring the world but now stocks shelves in a bland Floridian suburb is thrown into emotional crisis after the sudden, violent death of his grandfather, whose stories about a Miss Peregrine's home for incredible children and the monsters that hunted them seem to be wrecking havoc on his psyche. His psychiatrist suggests that a trip to the children's home may help Jack separate fact from fiction and give him closure, so it's off to Wales with Jake and his distant dad, who sees in Jake's journey an opportunity for a vacation of his own.

There Jake is disappointed to find Miss Peregrine's children's home destroyed, the victim of Nazi bombs dropped long ago. But as he explores the ruins, he finds himself being watched by none other than the supposedly long-dead children from his grandfather's stories. These are the peculiars, children with gifts that range from the amazing (starting fire with a touch) and the bizarre (a boy with bees living inside him) to the useless (one boy can project his dreams through his eye for others to see). Think of them as an assortment of the X-Men's C-team backbenchers. They haven't aged a day - and can't - because they live in a time loop courtesy of Miss Peregrine, the pipe-smoking, no-nonsense matron whose powers of time manipulation have safely sealed them away in a single, endlessly repeating day in 1943, a necessary precaution to protect them from the monstrous hollows, grotesque science experiments gone wrong who prey on the eyes of peculiars.

You might wonder at how these children would handle such isolating conditions or the prospect of an unchanging, futureless eternity. I certainly did; it's a necessary but steep sacrifice for basic safety. But aside from one or two lines, "Miss Peregrine's" backs away from this entirely. This may seem a nit-picky complaint about a children's movie, but the film consistently puts interesting or difficult issues on the table and then ignores them completely. Take as another example the strained relationship between Jake and his father (perhaps mirroring that shared by his father and grandfather), highlighted throughout the first half of the film and then abruptly discarded when his father simply disappears from the movie. No growth. No lessons learned. Just gone. The film is ripe for some (any) emotional development, and especially as a PG-13 it's fair to expect exploration of some (or any) of the issues it puts on the table.

But as I said, I did enjoy the movie. At least on its surface, "Miss Peregrine's" is a colorful and fun adventure. I smiled more than a few times and found myself chuckling each time Bronwyn, the diminutive strong-girl of the group, pushed the bigger boys out of the way to get a job done right. It won't matter to kids that most of these characters are paper thin, or that relationships develop not organically on-screen but because the script demands it. But it could have meant more, and that's frustrating.

I'd be remiss not to mention a few stand-out performances. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is a delight; the character's brilliantly realized, from her costume and wild blue-streaked hair to the quiet fury in any one of Green's glares; this is not a lady to mess with. Asa Butterfield's resolutely boring Jake is clearly batting above his average next to Elle Purnell, who ironically imbues light-as-air Emma Bloom with the most weighty performance of any character. And of course, the always wonderful Samuel L. Jackson, whose villainous Dr. Barron has a blast as he chews through scenery, although there is something a icky about the only black character playing the role of threatening menace to a group of innocent white children, especially in light of director Tim Burton's incredibly tone deaf comments on the subject.

All in all, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is a perfectly entertaining family adventure well-timed for the Halloween season. Younger viewers will love the fantastic world as imagined by Burton (he's very much in his wheelhouse) and there are enough thrills to keep older viewers engaged. It isn't deep or moving, but sometimes all you need is fun.

Score: 3.5/5

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