‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ skimps on peculiarities

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Even with a boy made of bees, a girl who eats from the back of her head and a toddler with the strength of 10 men, the only thing peculiar about this movie is its execution.

While Hollywood has accepted that young adult literature exists solely to be franchised (“The Hunger Games” and “Divergent”), the notion of hiring an iconic filmmaker to imbue his or her signature style onto a film seems exciting. It’s an opportunity to breathe new life into an undoubtedly stagnating genre. Discover the source material deals with the mystic and unexplainable, setting itself apart from comparable YA stories, and the anticipation grows. Make the filmmaker Tim Burton, and the hype is most certainly real. Though the stars appeared to have aligned for “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” the film ends up resembling a hollow recreation of its director’s more memorable filmography.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” follows teen Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) as he unravels the mystery of his grandfather Abraham’s (Terence Stamp) death. In the process, Jake discovers an enigmatic yet welcoming supernatural world. If the story sounds oddly familiar, that’s because it’s been done before (see any of the “Harry Potter” or “Percy Jackson” films).

The overarching structure of the narrative resembles that of past young adult adaptations — child feels lonely, child uncovers own uniqueness, child enters realm unseen by humanity and encounters antagonists. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do much to stray from that path save for the specifics of the hidden world as defined by the novel’s author.

Jake travels to Wales and inadvertently stumbles upon the domain of Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green) and her house of young “peculiars,” humans with their own special abilities. Green is the only adult in the film who exudes any sort of charisma. She enchants every second she’s on screen with an aura of quirkiness, grace and authority as the headmistress of the home. Because of her role as headmistress, though, Green is often relegated to doling out exposition about how she knew Jake’s grandfather, her love for her children and, most importantly, who the Wights are.

Led by the ridiculous-looking Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), the Wights are rogue peculiars seeking to become immortal — as generic as that is — and, like many of the other adult characters in the film, are thoroughly underutilized. Their presence isn’t thoroughly felt until well into the story’s third act, and it’s underwhelming at best. Jackson seems to be set on a career path of spewing out gimmicky one-liners in anything besides a Quentin Tarantino picture.

The real stars of the film are the eponymous peculiar children. Their camaraderie with one another, in addition to the genuinely interesting powers each one yields, make them captivating as they showcase their human flaws amid their superhuman traits.  

The weird nature of these abilities plays right into the hand of Burton as well, and in capturing the fantastical imagery of this family of outsiders stuck in time, he undeniably succeeds. Whether it be a sunken ship being excised of water or a large monster’s silhouette revealed through lightning, the film’s visuals never fail to astound — as is expected of a Tim Burton film. Yet, this never feels like a fully realized Tim Burton production.

Burton directed “Edward Scissorhands,” “Beetlejuice” and “Big Fish.” He’s made a career on intertwining the macabre with the comedic, fluidly transitioning between hilarity and horror during the course of one film. Despite its uniquely gothic subject nature, this movie catches Burton at his least nuanced. The shifts between humor and dread are jarring and disrupt the rhythm of the story with their prominence.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” practically invites Burton to subvert the hackneyed young adult genre, and at every given chance, the filmmaker declines. But hey, at least Johnny Depp’s not in it.

Contact Sanjay Nimmagudda at [email protected].