Tim Burton is still known today as one of cinema’s most inventive minds, yet his track record as of late has been dicey. After crafting classics like Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns and Ed Wood in the 90’s, Burton has struggled to turn his creativity into great films. There are a few exceptions to the rule (most notably 2007’s Sweeney Tood), but Burton in general seems to have lost his way.
If there was going to be a project to lift Burton from his funk, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children would be it. Based on Ramson Riggs’ novel, the film follows Jacob, an ordinary boy who stumbles upon a home of some unique children with their own idiosyncratic powers. With danger on the horizon, Jacob must fight to protect the children.
Such an offbeat premise seems tailor-made for Burton, with him making a career living the peculiarity of life. Aside from a few fun moments, Miss Peregrine is unfortunately another mediocre young adult adaption that fails to stand out from its peers.
Credit is due however for Burton, who delivers one of his more inspired efforts in some time. Feeling in the vein of some his more old-school movies, Burton establishes a solid sense of mood. There is a feeling of wonderment with all the amazing talents these children have, but Burton does not shy away from showing the more melancholic aspects of their situation. That may be nothing new for him as a director, but it’s a concept he plays off of well.
Where the film shows signs of life is its visuals, which are inventively-crafted and imaginative. Burton uses several techniques of effects to bring his unique visions to life, a nice touch in a world where most effects are standard CGI. It’s a great deal of fun seeing the powers come to life, especially in the film’s surprisingly enjoyable final third.
The great shame is that under the surface there is not much depth to the proceedings. The performances here are fine, but all of the character’s here lack any sort of depth to make them stand out. Most of the kids are defined rather by their peculiarity rather than having character depth to stand on. This is true with even the main character, as Jake feels more like a cliché rather than a strong lead.
Miss Peregrine also suffers from being a tonal hodgepodge. Like most of Burton’s more recent projects, the film fails to create a balance between its eccentric fun moments and trying to be darker. There are some surprisingly dark moments in the film, but they never are effective due to most the film feeling fairly silly.
There is just far too much going on here, with the film in particular falling into the trap of having too much exposition. It seems like in every scene of Jane Goldman’s script, there is either a new concept or twist being introduced. The film is trying its best to set-up its universe for the inevitable sequel, but it all just feels like nonsense without any substance.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children isn’t without some inventiveness or entertainment, but it’s jam-packed narrative overshadows any sort of emotional substance it tries to create. Let’s hope Burton can get the formula right if the sequel is happening.