Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

 

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Tim Burton returns with another weird and wonderful fantasy, a time-hopping romp that blends Groundhog Day with X-Men.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Milo Parker as Hugh with the invisible Millard 

  

Had this fantasy for older children arrived prior to the spell cast by Harry Potter, then all the strangeness and magic might have had a greater impact. Even so, the combined imaginations of director Tim Burton, screenwriter Jane Goldman and the original author Ransom Riggs have created a gripping, vivid and often scary ride, not unlike a cross between Groundhog Day and the X-Men series.

 

After the portentous, Gothic intro, the film cuts incongruously to a beach in latter-day Florida, a typically delicious segue for Burton, who can mine as much unease from contemporary Americana as he can from the darkest recesses of the past. Here we find Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield), a 16-year-old American lad with “mental health issues” and a dotty uncle (Terence Stamp) who says things like, “I know you think I’m crazy but the bird will tell you everything.” Of course, Uncle Abe is anything but barmy and his exhortations lead Jake to persuade his father (Chris O’Dowd) to take him for a restorative break on a remote Welsh island. Following the clues he has assembled from his uncle before the latter was blinded and killed by a giant, Jake ends up at a bombed-out mansion on the other side of a bog. However, at 9.07 every evening, the house springs into life and its former occupants from wartime Britain – orphans with special powers – live their last day on earth all over again.

 

The material recalls a number of familiar precedents (not least the recent Studio Ghibli film When Marnie Was There), but has enough invention in its little talon to make the whole thing a thoroughly fresh experience. The pipe-smoking Miss Peregrine herself (Eva Green) shapeshifts into a peregrine falcon, while her wards exhibit all the supernatural gifts of the X-Mansion crowd. There are the usual preternatural prodigies, but many more besides, such as the bee exhaling Hugh (there’s a beehive in his tummy), the Shirley Temple lookalike with voracious jaws hidden in her neck and little Fiona who can accelerate the growth of fruit and veg. Superbly rendered by the CGI department, the effects are truly magical, although Asa Butterfield’s Jake is not above astonishing his 1943 love interest, Emma (Ella Purnell), with a modern trick of his own: he whips out his mobile phone.

 

This being Tim Burton, though, there is much to terrify the younger viewer, even if they have recovered from the exploits of Voldemort. Samuel L. Jackson is a genuinely unnerving bad egg, who maintains his human form by gobbling the eyeballs of young children. And then there are the invisible giants called hollowgasts (recalling malicious versions of Burton’s own creation, Jack Skellington) and all sorts of creepy side attractions. Yet in spite of the innumerable narrative threads and allusions, the story never runs off course and provides plenty of food for thought. In our way, we are all peculiar children and our nightmares mere extensions of the real world.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O'Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson, Lauren McCrostie, Finlay MacMillan, Milo Parker, Kim Dickens, O-Lan Jones, Shaun Thomas.

 

Dir Tim Burton, Pro Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping, Screenplay Jane Goldman, from the novel by Ransom Riggs, Ph Bruno Delbonnel, Pro Des Gavin Bocquet, Ed Chris Lebenzon, Music Mike Higham, Costumes Colleen Atwood.

 

Chernin Entertainment/Tim Burton Productions/TSG Entertainment-20th Century Fox.

126 mins. 2016. USA/UK/Belgium. Rel: 29 September 2016. Cert. 12A.