Embrace Your Peculiarity

As far as intriguing movie titles go, it’s hard to beat, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Tim Burton’s latest gothic extravaganza.

I mentioned this movie as one of the upcoming young adult novel/movies that had caught my eye in my Time For More Teen Angst blog post in March 2016. And here it is now, playing at the Civic! I’m hoping this is more of the quality of Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990) or Big Fish (2003) than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) or Alice in Wonderland (2010). Either way, by all accounts his latest movie looks ravishing and will likely be among this year’s Oscar contenders for Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Production Design.

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Actors

Of Burton’s 16 previous feature films, 8 have starred Johnny Depp, but he’s not in this one. And, one might have expected the role of Miss Peregrine to be played by Helena Bonham Carter, Burton’s partner with whom he has made seven movies together. Instead, the marvellous French actress Eva Green portrays the titular heroine, which seems a good trade. Asa Butterfield, who was so good in the excellent Hugo (2011), plays the main teen protagonist, Jake, while Samuel L. Jackson is the bad monster head honcho. Smaller roles are played by acting greats, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, and Terence Stamp, while Chris O’Dowd, who I thought was very funny in St. Vincent (2014), has a straight role here playing Jake’s father.

Lots of plot

The movie has been garnering mostly favourable reviews – roughly two-thirds thumbs up and one-third thumbs down. The chief complaint seems to be an overly complex plot that overwhelms all the fantastical goings-on. In case it helps, here’s a brief synopsis of the story. Jake’s grandfather dies in mysterious circumstances and, to help him come to terms with his death, Jake is encouraged to travel to visit the children’s home his grandfather used to tell him stories about. He finds the home derelict after being bombed in the Second World War, but when he returns the following day he encounters a group of children living there with their protector, Miss Peregrine. Somehow, Jake has gone back in time to the day before the bomb destroyed the home, a day the children continue to live through in a time loop. The children, called Peculiars, all have special powers, such as incredible strength or invisibility, but there are also bad Peculiars, called Hollows, who wish to kill the good Peculiars to achieve immortality by eating their eyes. Miss Peregrine has kept them in the time loop for the last 70-odd years to prevent this happening. [Spoiler alert: Jake has to discover his own peculiarity to help rescue the children from the time loop and save them from the Hollows.]

It’s like X crossed with Y

One thing I noticed in researching Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the tendency for many reviewers to say that the movie is like X-Men crossed with Harry Potter, sprinkled with a dash of Groundhog Day (1993). I’m not wholly convinced by these easy comparisons, which seems akin to claiming I’m like James Bond crossed with Superman because I like martinis shaken, not stirred, and I occasionally put my underwear on outside my pants. The X-Men comparison comes up a lot because the children with their peculiarities are like mutants with their superpowers (one reviewer delightfully refers to them as X-Tweens). In addition, the screenwriter, Jane Goldman, also worked on the screenplay for X-Men: First Class (2011) and the story for X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) (which also happens to be a time travel movie). Groundhog Day shares an obvious repeating-day plot device, but beyond that, I doubt there’s anything else about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that could be similar to the Bill Murray classic.

A more intriguing comparison cited in some reviews relates to the climactic skeleton battle scene at an amusement park. Burton designed this scene as an homage to pioneering stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton battle in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Burton had previously produced the feature-length stop motion films The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and James and the Giant Peach (1996), as well as directing Corpse Bride (2005) and Frankenweenie (2012). Burton originally intended to replicate a stop-motion look for the skeleton scene in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but using motion capture and computer-generated animation techniques. Eventually, however, he abandoned the stop motion look for the skeletons as it wasn’t meshing well with the other elements of the scene.

Another movie I mentioned in my Time For More Teen Angst blog post was A Monster Calls (2016). This had its world premiere at the current Toronto International Film Festival. Hopefully it will play at the Civic in the new year.

Iain Pardoe is an online university instructor who enjoys the movies of Hayao Miyazaki even more than the kids and loves rewatching favourites from his youth with his family when he’s not playing soccer or skiing.