Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children tells the story of Jake (Asa Butterfield), who grew up on the fantastical tales of his grandfather Abe (Terrence Stamp). He was often told of a house full of strange children under the care of the eccentric Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Jake grows up believing that his grandfather has been lying to him, but the stories come up again when Abe dies under very mysterious circumstances. A parting gift leads Jake to an island in Wales, where he seeks out Miss Peregrine's house. And there he learns the truth about the stories, and his own peculiarity.
What follows involves time travel loops, invisible monsters that eat eyeballs, and a whole mess of children with special powers. It’s kind of crazy, and exactly the kind of thing that director Tim Burton is best at. And for a good long while, as the film explores the many odd facets of this world, it is pretty enjoyable. Where the film falters is in delivering a plot that makes good use of this fascinating world. The story especially struggles in the final act, with a collection of villains that seems to grow less formidable as time goes on.
There’s a lot to explain in this story, and the film squanders some of its runtime by being so reluctant to share this backstory. The pieces all fall into place too late into the story, and this makes the back half feel a little rushed. The eventual confrontation between the good guys and the bad guys feels a little underwhelming, in spite of a wealth of fun ideas that Burton is all too ready to deploy. There is this weird that keeps happening in these confrontations, where it feels like the bad guys are more reluctant to do harm than the ostensible good guys are. When the villains aren’t taking every opportunity to really hurt the protagonists, the tension kind of dissipates.
But the film has pleasures beyond the plot. It really manages to bring to life the cool, strange world of the novels from which the film is based. In lesser hands, this hodgepodge of weirdness might come off as disjointed. But the film manages to make it all look and feel like it fits together. It feels perfectly acceptable for these children to exist in this world, for this strange conglomeration of peculiarities to band together in a secret bubble hidden away in time and space.
This feels more like the Tim Burton of old, his fascinations popping up all over the movie. The aesthetic suits him, from the clothes to the sets to the occasional topiary. There is even an opportunity to use some stop motion. A game cast helps things as well. Asa Butterfield always displays a spark of intelligence that makes the actor a tad more compelling than his peers. Samuel L. Jackson has some fun chewing the scenery. But the real star here is Eva Green, who as Miss Peregrine commands the screen in every single scene that she’s in. She is key to making a lot of this nonsense work, the actress so confident in delivering the strangeness of this world that it all feels perfectly natural.
In terms of story, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children isn’t any better than any other Young Adult novel adaptation. It largely follows the same formula, and in some ways, it might even be a little worse. But it’s got this cool world going for it, a world that is ably brought to life by a filmmaker that seems to be genuinely inspired by it. And in moments, that’s an added bit of fizz that makes the film feel greater than its parts. It kind of falls apart in the back end, but even as it falters, it still manages to charm.