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Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – “A wonderful fairy tale experience”

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It’s difficult to think of a more suitable Hollywood auteur for such literary adaptation as this. Surely when author Ransom Rigg’s was typing prose for Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children – his young adult fantasy novel – the films of Tim Burton had crossed his mind? It’s certainly no surprise as to why Burton was drawn to the material; a story about idiosyncratic outsiders on the fringes of society? Sounds like every Tim Burton film ever. More specifically, the story concerns Jake (Asa Butterfield) as he travels to Wales in search of the fantastical children’s home that his Grandfather (Terrence Stamp) claimed to have come from. Run by a pipe-smoking, time-looping Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), the peculiar children, who have varying supernatural and bizarre gifts, have to live the same one safe day in 1943 over and over again, away from the unpredictable outside world and the forces of evil out to eat their eyeballs.

While we can always rely on Tim Burton to continue his commercially popular, somewhat weary, obsessions with retro-Gothicism free-reign, it is the source material and Jane Goldman’s screenplay that bequeaths Burton with the best story he’s had to work with in many years. Not forgetting to tell a human story within the carnival creativity, there is more poignancy, pathos, structure and intelligence than any other Burton film since Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and maybe even further back to Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands.

Much like Pans Labyrinth before it, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children walk’s the line between fantasy and reality, questioning the virtues and hindrances of each. More so, it also provides an important anti-Fascist subtext. The allegory and references to Nazi Germany are palpable (the evil creatures hunting the children are called Hollowghasts), but the ‘messages’ lack of finesse makes it no less virtuous or disagreeable, celebrating diversity and strangeness over conformity and adherence. When the message is that important, why bother being shy about it? And much like Guillermo Del Toro, Burton celebrates his fantasy forefathers; not only does this film feature a beautiful stop-motion animation sequence (when was the last time a new film you saw did that?!), he references animation maestro Ray Harryhausen more directly when sentient skeleton warriors start fighting during the climax of the film. This is a film lovingly in debt to old school imaginations – Walt Disney, J.M Barrie, Edgar Allen Poe.

These are the sort of things we can expect from any Burton feature, and, as it were, many of his recent forays have lacked bite, real purpose or even invention. But it should be said that in this case, this critic was left in admiration with how spooked out the audience was during many of the fabulous horror scenes. I’d just like to quote the BBFC insight on the film: “There is a scene in which characters feast on eyes, stacked on a plate.” It’s this sort icky-gooey Horrible Histories type of gore that kids will love and parents will wonder if a 12A classification was too lenient. This is where Burton shines, recalling his pre-CGI work on Sleepy Hollow, before getting overstuffed with Planet of the Apes and mesh like Alice in Wonderland. And talking of creepy, words should be written for Samuel L. Jackson’s performance: bestowed with mad scientist get-up, shark teeth and white eyes (think Christopher Walken in Sleepy Hollow…when he has his head), he is absolutely terrifying, but also hilarious. He steals the show.

But let’s not forget the glorious Eva Green, who in all of her usual emo sensuality delivers yet another tantalizing performance. It would have been advantageous to feature her more prominently in the film (which film wouldn’t be improved with more pipe-smoking Eva Green?), but this is Jacob’s story, and Asa Butterfield is a talented enough young actor to keep the story involving, even when it unwisely goes over the two-hour mark.

With welcomed risk, narrative coherence and anachronism, Tim Burton, counter-intuitively, feels strangely fresh and important once more. Miss Peregine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a wonderful fairy tale experience – bizarre, funny, scary and whimsically childlike.

4-out-of-5

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