Tim Burton has been a director who has been losing his creative edge in recent times. Meaning, a lot of us were getting tired of his staple marks in film making. But “Big Eyes” was a real return to form, so can the same be expected from “Miss Peregrin’s”?
A teenage boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield) is crushed by the death of his grandfather, who had spent much of Jake’s childhood telling him stories of a strange island where the inhabitants had strange powers. With his psychiatrist thinking it would be good for Jake to follow on his grandfather’s request, he and his father set out for the remote Welsh island, where they find a sleepy villiage and an old children’s home which was burned down during the Second World War. Nothing seems very special, but Jake is determined to find the answers he needs. And it doesn’t take long for him to find a “time loop” back to 1943, and the time where the strange children’s home was thriving. Here, he learns more about his grandfather’s mysterious past, and what lies in store for him.
The opening act which we witness is probably where things are at their most interesting – the mystery and whether everything that was said was true or a fableis played with a lot. Add to this some resemblances with YA Fantasy stories and a dash of Harry Potter, and it was indeed catering to my interests. The mood is very in Burton’s style of old – strange and quite sad, but holding a little tease of hope and intrigue. It feels so nice that there’s no heavy reliance on CG or cartoonish story elements messing the recipe. (but we might return to that latter topic later) At least for the first half of the movie or so, the composure holds your interest.
And of course there are the “time loops” introducing time travel aspects to the narrative. I like the way it is utilised for the overall story, where these are little pockets that the “Peculiars” can hide within, safe but detached from the world. For something that initially looks ideal for them, becomes their own prison that they have had to accept. I really liked this point of view, it has grounding within the structure of the designed world, without being overly complicated.
I mentioned the “Peculiars” without really giving them a description. For all intents and purposes, they are X-Men style Mutants in hiding from a world that will not accept them. Each child has their own unique skill or aspect that makes them special, and there’s some… odd choices with that. I mean, a kid who can spit out bees may be terrifying for Nicholas Cage, but it seems so utterly random otherwise. There are some other cool ones though, the girl who can set fire to anything she touches, and the boy who can reanimate dolls. Miss Peregrin takes care of them all, while also using her own powers to reset the time slot they are in, just before the building gets destroyed. The similarities to other franchises are there for sure, but there’s just enough in the way of differences to not make it blatant.
So for this opening half of the running time, things are quite good. The performances by Butterfield and Ella Purnel in the lead teenage roles are relatively good. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine gives grounding in a very nanny-like role. Remember, the majority of the performances in here are by kids and teenagers so they won’t be amazing. But, they’re okay. Anything that has CG effects is kept to a relative minimum, or at least, the sets and locations grab your attention more. It is set in a bleak Welsh villaige after all, and looked great.
However, I have been dodging the task of speaking about the last act for a while now, and I am afraid to say that the relative restraint by Tim Burton in the opening two-thirds goes completely out the window. And not in the good way.
The antagonists finally get their full reveal, and are so absurdly cartoonish and over-acting that it began to turn me off to the parts that had been good thus far. Samuel L. Jackson… this role really does not play to his strengths at all. He spends all of it grimacing at the camera to laughably bad results. The ending itself included another loop, a ship, and a tediously drawn out end at a fairgrounds, where the tone of the film gets worse and worse with every passing minute. For a group of enemies who have a trait involving eyes that is very creepy, they are drawn to be baffling in their caricatures. By the time the credits began and couldn’t help asking “What the holy fuck happened there?”
It is a real shame, because up until then it was doing fairly well – competent with a few dashes of interest and creativity along with some very nice location choices. Good material for any YA fantasy fans. And then for all that to get flung out the window to make room for crazy bad guys and a yawn-inducing finale was such a let-down.
“Miss Peregrin’s” will still appeal to parts of the audience for sure, if you can see past the issues then you’ll have a good enough time with it. I wasn’t able to do that unfortunately, Tim Burton is surprisingly good when he reels himself in a bit, and he was damm close to pulling it off. But the way it slumped near the end left me disappointed more so than it had to have done. There’s plenty of that Burton style to satisfy the enthusiasts, but goes too far to be something to merit with praise.
Thanks for reading!