PLOT A seemingly normal boy discovers his place among children with unique abilities.
CAST Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell
RATED PG-13 (Macabre and scary scenes)
BOTTOM LINE An uneven adaptation of the Ransom Riggs book, with creepy-funny characters but an extremely muddled story.
Tim Burton, the American Gothic director of “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands,” isn’t just the obvious choice to adapt Ransom Riggs’ macabre young-adult novel, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” Burton’s overall aesthetic — a combination of Walt Disney and Edgar Allan Poe — arguably paved the way for dark YA fare like “Miss Peregrine,” “Lemony Snicket” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” Burton’s version of Riggs’ book, about children with alarming mutations and superpowers, is about what you’d expect: a tween-friendly version of Tod Browning’s shock-horror classic, “Freaks.”
The movie’s PG-13 rating is not an overestimation. Early in the film, Jake (Asa Butterfield), a shy teenager in suburban Florida, discovers his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) half-dead and missing his eyes. Abe’s dying-breath instructions will lead Jake (and his clueless father, played by Chris O’Dowd) to a fog-enshrouded island in Wales. So far, so good: We’re basically in a Universal horror movie updated for today’s young viewers.
On the island, Jake discovers that Abe’s old bedtime stories about a fantastical orphanage were true, because all his classmates are here, alive and somehow unchanged. Pretty young Emma (Ella Purnell) still floats above the ground, Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) can still bring inanimate figurines to life, Millard (Cameron King) is still invisible, and so on. They all still live under the wing of no-nonsense headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, not on screen nearly enough). And here, right when the story gets under way, the movie runs into trouble.
“Miss Peregrine” gets bogged down in an extremely convoluted plot involving a time loop, the mad scientist Barron (a snarky Samuel L. Jackson), another headmistress named Miss Avocet (Judi Dench, briefly) and an army of eye-sucking monsters called Hollows (short for Holocaust, a potentially profound metaphor that the movie quickly abandons). The action is difficult to follow and therefore less than gripping, and Burton’s climactic battle sequence (at a carnival, where else?) goes for a cute, lighthearted tone that undermines the previous two ghoulish hours.
In the end, bizarre characters and a creepy-funny atmosphere are all “Miss Peregrine” has to offer. That doesn’t add up to a satisfying movie, even one by a stylist as distinctive as Burton.
As a Miss, they were hits
Eva Green is addressed as Miss Peregrine for her role in Tim Burton’s latest film. She also joins these other actresses, who were a hit as a Miss.
OUR MISS BROOKS (1956) — In this film version of the popular TV series, Eve Arden reprised her role as a wisecracking English teacher who’s more interested in making the grade with a studly biology teacher (Robert Rockwell) than in grading papers.
THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1969) — Maggie Smith won an Oscar for her vivid portrayal of a Scottish teacher at a girls school who has a dangerous influence on her impressionable students.
DRIVING MISS DAISY (1989) — This Oscar-winning drama starred Jessica Tandy as a wealthy Jewish widow living in Atlanta who is forced to hire a chauffeur (Morgan Freeman) after she wrecks her car. Though it deals with racism and anti-Semitism, the heart of the movie is the relationship between the two main characters.
MISS CONGENIALITY (2000) — Sandra Bullock had one of her biggest hits with this comedy about an FBI agent who goes undercover as contestant in a beauty pageant to thwart a bombing. Especially funny were Michael Caine as her beauty consultant and William Shatner as the pageant’s over-the-hill host.
— Daniel Bubbeo