Directed by Tim Burton
20th Century Fox, out now
When his beloved grandfather leaves Jake clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds a magical place known as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children…
Following his journey into the real-world with based-on-a-true-story drama Big Eyes, Tim Burton returns with a film so brimming with his trademarks that at times it’s in danger of becoming a parody of his best work.
Let’s face it, Tim Burton is a quality brand, and people now go to see his movies with a very specific set of expectations – spooky, gothic, stripy, Danny Elfman score, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Helena Bonham Carter… you get the picture. And maybe the less-than-stellar reception of Big Eyes convinced Burton to give the audience exactly what they want in his latest movie. Ransom Riggs’ popular series of books about special children is the ideal fit for the director’s sensibilities, and if the whole thing sounds a little ‘Burton does does The X-Men’, that feeling is exacerbated by the screenplay from First Class‘s Jane Goldman.
Topiary animals in the garden are lifted from Edward Scissorhands and Ella Purnell’s lighter-than-air Emma is the new Christina Ricci/Winona Ryder wide-eyed strong female lead, while British acting royalty like Terence Stamp, Judi Dench and Rupert Everett have great fun in roles that Richard Griffiths, Christopher Lee or Alan Rickman would have filled if still with us. But enough of the Burton déjà vu, what’s new?
Among the familiarity is a great lead performance from Asa Butterfield as our hero Jake, doting on the tall tales of his grandfather (Big Fish anyone?) Terence Stamp, who is found dead with his eyes removed, thus prompting a chain of events that take him from 2016 Florida to a children’s home in 1943 Wales.
Eva Green revels in her role as pipe-smoking matriarch and sometime avian leader of the mutant kids. The very definition of Burtonesque, her character is dressed in a wonderful Colleen Attwood governess dress, hair quiffed and curling. She’s protecting the children from Samuel L Jackson and his horde, himself sporting a spiky white fright wig, razor-sharp teeth and zombie eyes. I won’t spoil the motivations, suffice to say there’s time-travelling, transformations, a trip to Blackpool and a feast of freshly-detached eyeballs!
One scene in the third act suggests that the movie is going of the rails in the way that Burton’s Dark Shadows remake lost the plot, but it’s all so bonkers that it just about gets away with it. Riggs has written three books to date in this world, with an upcoming book of short stories, so it’ll be intriguing to see whether the series will continue on film. However, unlike the Hunger Games and Divergent series, this first novel stands alone perfectly, and while there are seeds sown for a sequel, we aren’t left hanging at the end. Oh, and don’t worry about the absence of Danny Elfman: Mike Higham and Matthew Margeson channel the composer’s sound while adding their own flourishes to a score that sits comfortably in Burtonville.
Verdict: Macabre, gorgeously-designed, slightly unhinged and unashamedly fantastical, this is not a progression for the director, but by the same token did anyone give Alfred Hitchcock a hard time because he kept making thrillers? It’s a well-established formula and should appeal to all but the youngest fantasy fans. 7/10