It’s easy to get caught up in the world of a Tim Burton film. To be in an almost unimaginable place that’s both normal and off kilter at the same time, that’s populated by characters who are endearing but bizarre.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is not an exception, mixing the past and the present together, filling its cast with characters that are, well, just look at the title, and staying unendingly imaginative – in its visual presentation, in the manner the story is told, and in the story.
Yet there’s something missing, some ingredient that keeps the film from entering classic territory. There’s an almost imperceptible sense that Burton is holding back a little, that he’s not being peculiar enough.
Another problem is the casting of Asa Butterfield as Jake, a Florida boy who is on his way to see his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), who has been acting up lately, ranting about impending danger to his family. Jake and his dad (Chris O’Dowd) write it off to dementia, but when Jake arrives, he finds that the house has been destroyed, a metal fence by the backyard swamp has been cut through, Abe, with sockets where his eyes used to be, is dying and pleading with Jake to “go to the island,” and there are fleeting glimpses of some other guy, with glowing white eyes, and a big creature out in the swamp.
A month later, all has calmed down and Jake is in therapy with Dr. Golan (Allison Janney). When Jake gets a postcard from Wales, from Miss Peregrine, someone who his grandfather had constantly spoken about and who ran the school he attended as a boy, Dr. Golan agrees that a trip to Wales would be the right thing to soothe Jake’s jangled nerves. So off he goes with his dad to visit the school.
Too bad that Wales is a gray, cloudy place, practically drained of color. The school, which Jake visits without his dad, is in ruins, and has been since the day it was bombed all those years ago by the Germans, on the night of September 3, 1943. There were no survivors.
But what about that postcard? What about the stories of all those kids that his grandfather told? What about the fact that when Jake visits the school a second time, he’s not alone, and those kids start showing up, still kids, and everything around him has burst into vivid, vibrant color?
And so we’re back to the problem with Asa Butterfield. When Jake meets these kids, all of whom have special powers, and when he meets pipe-smoking mother figure Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), he should react appropriately. He should shout for joy that everything he heard from Abe was true. When he finds out that they’re all stuck in a “time loop,” reliving the same day – September 3, 1943 – over and over again, so the bombing will never happen, he should ... react! But, and this could be the fault of Burton or the author of the graphic novel on which the film is based, Butterfield just takes it all in, doesn’t even register a rise.
That part of the film doesn’t work. Neither, really, does the title. Did no one think that “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is awfully close to “Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters,” the institute in the X–Men films? Was there no concern that when Miss Peregrine tells Jake that “peculiars have been persecuted through the ages,” she’s echoing the sentiments, almost verbatim, of Charles Xavier, talking about the mutant kids that attend his school?
The complicated story eventually involves a budding romance, a mad scientist, some extremely scary monsters (tall, spindly legged things that are sharp-toothed and multi-tentacled) who “consume the eyeballs of children,” and an underwater sequence in a sunken ship that proves to be the film’s visual gem.
But an extended action climax goes on too long, Samuel L. Jackson sleepwalks through his villain role, and it’s never made clear if Jake is “peculiar” or, in his words, “ordinary.” The same could be said for much of the film.

— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.


MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
Written by Jane Goldman; directed by Tim Burton
With Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Terence Stamp, Samuel L. Jackson, Ella Purnell
Rated PG-13