Seeing a movie based off of a popular book without first reading the source material can be something of an adventure. Previews, in most cases, limit the scope of what can be expected to key snippets that should, in all likelihood, draw larger audiences. However, it’s hard to really know what to expect, which is part of the major draw to cinema in general – being party to an adventure playing out on the screen.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the first book in a tremendously popular series about Peculiars. Peculiars are people—largely children in this case—who exhibit unusual, or peculiar traits such as being lighter than air, pyrokinesis, or command over the flow of time. Miss Peregrine, Eva Green, keeps a number of such Peculiars safe in her home for said peculiar children, and if this sounds a bit like X-Men at this point it’s important to point out the similarities fall by the wayside pretty quickly when the plot’s central conflict unfolds.
Miss Peregrine’s is a very Tim Burton movie, and in the best ways possible. It feels like a return to Burton’s capacity to blend whimsy with dark themes to create an enjoyable, if not troubling at times, piece of cinema.
…a little bit of James and the Giant Peach meets Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street…
The story follows Jake Portman, played by Asa Butterfield, who leads an unremarkable, ordinary life, which is suddenly upended by his eccentric grandfather frantically calling him. Events lead Jake to Wales, where he discovers the truth about the extraordinarily clever Miss Peregrine and the Peculiars in her care. This is all well and good, but it lacks a central conflict on its own. That’s where the story left out of the previews comes into play. It’s revealed that some Peculiars, in their efforts to cheat death, became monsters. Only a lucky few can see these otherwise-invisible monsters, and so Miss Peregrine’s home of Peculiars as well as others across the world are in danger of attack by these monsters, which feed on the eyes of Peculiars and have a particular taste for children. It’s almost a little bit of James and the Giant Peach meets Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in that sense.
From start to finish Miss Peregrine’s is delightful. It’s a bit predictable at times, but not necessarily to its detriment, and entirely unexpected at others. It isn’t exactly the most kid-friendly, with some gruesome moments especially towards the end. Instead, it stands as a strong example of young adult literature transformed into cinema. The characters feel like real, yet surreal, people who are trying to find their way in a world that is vastly unwelcoming to their kind, which is something that resonates with its younger audiences as they grow to find themselves and accept what they may consider their peculiarities. It’s also yet another film that acts as a strong argument for reading the book it was based off of. Seeing it play out was one adventure, but going back to read the book—for those who didn’t, anyway—to see what didn’t make the cut is another, greater adventure.
All things considered, this is a film worth seeing on the big screen to fully appreciate its grand scale, thrilling moments, and surprising capacity for edge-of-the-seat suspense. Miss Peregrine’s proved to be a nice break from the glut of superheroes and gritty, based on real events films, and is sure to delight anyone with a love of whimsy and, well, the peculiar of course.
By Phil Gorski