Tim Burton (2012's "Dark Shadows
") can do dark and whimsy in his sleep, and his best filmsfrom 1985's "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" to 1988's "Beetlejuice" to 1990's "Edward Scissorhands" to 1994's "Ed Wood" to 2003's "Big Fish
" to 2007's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
"blend this macabre touch with poignant helpings of vulnerability and heart. His latest effort has all the right ingredients, but somehow mixes up the step-by-step instructions. Based on the best-selling 2011 novel by Ransom Riggs, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" goes through the motions rather than allows itself, and its audience, to genuinely feel. Not helping matters is an inherently jumbled plot, one that irresponsibly defies the laws of time and physics while placing undue importance on characters who for over seventy years have cheated their own natural fates.
Since childhood, Florida teenager Jacob "Jake" Portman (Asa Butterfield) has been bewitched by grandfather Abe's (Terence Stamp) tales of his youth, extraordinary stories about a home for peculiar children at which he once stayed on the Welsh island of Cairnholm. When Jake stumbles upon Abe's body in the woods behind his house, his eyes mysteriously plucked from his head, the boy immediately knows his murder is somehow related to his fantastical past. Encouraged by psychologist Dr. Golan (Allison Janney), Jake convinces dad Franklin (Chris O'Dowd) to accompany him to Cairnholm as a way of making peace with his grandpa's death. Upon arrival, however, he finds himself thrust into a time warp to September 1943, on the eve of a German bombing which ultimately destroyed the safe haven lived in by headmistress Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green) and her special-powered charges. None of them, Jake realizes, have aged a day since Abe resided with them all those decades ago. They are perfectly happy repeating the same 24-hour loop, until their protection is suddenly threatened by the appearance of maniacal scientist Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and his coven of monstrous Hollows.
Flashes of that old Burton magic flicker throughout "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," but the visuals he and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (2013's "Inside Llewyn Davis
") concoct only go so far in Jane Goldman's (2015's "Kingsman: The Secret Service
") mechanical screenplay. The characterseven leads Jake, peculiar light-as-a-feather love interest Emma (Ella Purnell), and the pipe-smoking Miss Peregrineare undernourished, with little learned about them through the course of the narrative. Jake's friendships with the children at Peregrine's homeamong them, the pyrokinetic Olive (Lauren McCrostie), the invisible Millard (Cameron King), the necromantic Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), the super-strong Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), and the extra-mouthed Claire (Raffiella Chapman)are sketched with the broadest of brushes, next to no time dedicated to their respective bonds or the lives they led before they entered their current time loop. Likewise, the villains of the piece are dullards, with the shape-shifting Barron and the tall, gangly-limbed Hollows not half as creepy or daunting as they should be.
The negligence of Jake's home life and his feelings of disconnection are barely dealt with, with Chris O'Dowd (2014's "St. Vincent
") and Kim Dickens (2014's "Gone Girl
") squandered in nothing roles as his parents. As Jake, Asa Butterfield (2013's "Ender's Game
") struggles to make the most of what's on the page, his best moments the ones between himself and Ella Purnell's (2013's "Kick-Ass 2
") wide-eyed, soulful Emma. A scene where they explore a sunken ship buried in the depths of the ocean is a technical marvel, if nothing else. Having vividly played a number of villains in recent year, it is nice to see Eva Green (2014's "300: Rise of an Empire
") emanating warmth as the caring, watchful Miss Peregrine. One wishes there was more meat to this characterGreen's expressive face suggests layers not otherwise plumbed by the final cutbut she at least enlivens it with spiritedness.
"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is notable for individual moments of inspirationthe way the rustling leaves on the plant outside Jake's bedroom window cast shadows of aliens tendrils, for example, or a haunting sequence where Jake witnesses the turning-back of the time loop just as a bomb plummets over Miss Peregrine's home, scored to Flanagan and Allen's upbeat "Run Rabbit Run." The finale, set on a Blackpool boardwalk filled with carnival rides and a squad of swashbuckling Harryhausen-esque skeletons, is imaginative in conception, but not in delivery, undercut by a distinct lack of engagement in the people on the screen and the plot they are in.
A lot is asked of Jake in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children." He must risk his life to save people who have denied the harsh realities of the world as well as the process of aging, all for the purpose of holding onto time loops scattered across the globe that shouldn't even exist in the first place. Pressure is also placed on our hero to give up those he loves and his own present-day existencesomething that is treated as frivolously as the decision to walk to the mailbox. And, perhaps most discouraging of all, the film irresponsibly treats death as a finicky temporary hurdle that one can reverse without consequence, the natural order of the universe be damned. It's like the director's 1984 short film "Frankenweenie" and 2012's emotionally dishonest feature-length remake
all over again. Sadly, Tim Burtonwho no doubt has plenty of better movies in his futuredidn't learn his lesson the first two times.