Reading Ransom Riggs’ young adult book “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” it seems perfectly Tim Burton. It is a novel with some light scares, a unique location, something magical/wondrous, and a whole lot of odd things going on. The results of Tim Burton of adapting the book, though, are less than stellar.
Now, I don’t mean to say that Riggs’ work is an ideal piece of fiction. It is a novel that is so devoted to creating a world—which it does wonderfully—that it leaves little time for story. This in turn leads to a disappointing conclusion, one which makes the whole novel feel like the preface for the second book in the series.
Burton (with Jane Goldman, who wrote the screenplay), wisely, really just uses the book as a jumping off point for his story, but doesn’t make his tale a better one. The film features similar characters and a similar setting and similar problem, but that’s about it. Even there it isn’t consistent, changing around some of the “peculiar” abilities the kids’ have.
Taking a step back for the uninitiated, it all sort of works like this – there’s a kid named Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) who lives in Florida. His grandfather, Abraham (Terence Stamp), has told Jake fantastical stories about Abe’s growing up during the Second World War for years. While Jake initially believed these tales of kids who could float, control fire, had incredible strength, or were invisible, as he gets older, he realizes his grandfather has been just making things up.
Except, as Jake learns when his grandfather dies, Abe has been telling Jake the truth. Jake learns this after convincing his father, Franklin (Chris O’Dowd), to take him to the small island in the UK where Abe lived during the war. Then things truly take a turn for the disturbing as monsters turn out to be real as well.
Fans of the novel will certainly be upset by some of the changes, most principally that while Emma (Ella Purnell) has the ability to control fire in the novel, here she has the ability to control air, which is the unique talent of Olive (Lauren McCrostie) in the book. The book, of course, has the ability to give us much of the backstory of these characters and their relationship with a young Abe back in the day, which really makes the Emma/Jake relationship be truly weird and vaguely disturbing in the novel. It isn’t that the backstory doesn’t exist in this world, but it doesn’t exist to the same extent on the screen.
In the end, the romance between Emma and Jake, may have been odd in the novel, has been turned into something bland and predictable here.
See, now I feel like I’ve gotten ahead of myself again because, naturally, the kids Abe grew up with couldn’t still be teens now that Jake is there 70 years later. Except they can because their nanny/teacher/house mother, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who can turn into a bird, has created a time loop for them all to live in and they constantly exist in the same 24 hour period.
Just go with it, it’s easier that way and it’s what the movie is all about. There are bad guys (led by Samuel L. Jackson) that want Peregrine’s powers for themselves, and the kids have to band together to fight the evil.
It is really this last area where the whole thing crumbles. Riggs’ conclusion to the book is no conclusion at all, and consequently Burton has included an entirely different one here, but it is absolutely no better than Riggs’ effort. In fact, it may be worse as it features some logistical inconsistencies that wind up with the whole thing seeming to crumble upon closer inspection.
So, what then are we left with?
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” features all the visual whimsy one expects from a Burton adventure packed into a kind of junior version of a superhero movie. It does a good job putting Riggs’ fascinating world onto the big screen and Butterfield, Green, and the rest of the cast do a solid work bringing these characters to life, even if they were more interesting in their previous incarnation. But, the story is truly a disappointment. The movie is so very beautiful and so very hollow.
photo credit: 20th Century Fox