PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' Is All Style, No Sense

Tim Burton misses again, though his bizarre take on the superteam gimmick has its charms.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Chris O'Dowd
Rated: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2016
UK Release Date: 2016-09-29
US Release Date: 2016-09-30

There are moments in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that are truly magical. A boy puts a shiny monocle to his eye in a dark room when a sudden burst of light casts his dreams onto the opposite wall like a film projector. A blonde girl in a sky-blue dress floats like a kite by a treetop, tethered to the earth by a rope held by a boy with his jaw on the ground. Director Tim Burton has an enduring gift for creating unforgettable imagery, but has had trouble in recent years crafting stories that are as inspired as his twisted visual confections.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children isn’t Burton’s worst late-career offering; it features a standout performance from a surging actress with a big future, and actually does some interesting things in its first hour. However, despite its strengths, the film falls flat as a pancake in its incomprehensible, bumbling third act. Guided by Ransom Riggs’ YA novel on which the film is based, Burton riffs on X-Men and (to a lesser extent) Harry Potter, and while the combination may look winning on paper, the results are tragically clichéd and will likely leave fans of both Burton and the novel frustrated and confused.

To its credit, the movie does get off on the right foot, introducing us to a fantastical world of shape-shifters, reanimators, invisible monsters, and portals to the past (Burton’s got enough flair to hide how derivative it all is, at least for a while). Our proxy is Jake (Asa Butterfield, awkwardly donning an American accent), an ordinary teen living in a boring suburb in Florida travels to England with his father (Chris O’Dowd, whose American accent is even less convincing) where he finds a hidden gateway to the '40s in the Welsh Countryside. There, he’s greeted by a group of adorable oddities, kids with superpowers (they call them “peculiarities”) who live at a school run by headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who’s some kind of badass Mary Poppins.

The X-Men similarities are glaring but forgivable. That is, until the movie takes the aped premise and does nothing new with it. As in X-Men: First Class, we see the kids bond and bicker, using their powers to do household chores and entertain themselves. There’s the floating girl (Ella Purnell), a slithery lad named Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), who can bring inanimate objects to life by stuffing them with beating hearts, and some little ones who have less useful peculiarities (one has pet bees living in his gut, another can make all manner of flora grow fast).

The kids lead a relatively safe, repetitive existence in what Peregrine explains as a “time loop”, a period of 24 hours that resets and replays forever. That existence is, of course, threatened when a sharp-toothed baddie (Samuel L. Jackson, in camp mode) finds the time loop and invades. Predictably, the kids band together to topple their adversary, and that’s when the movie goes terribly wrong.

Somehow, the story’s third act manages to be both trite and spectacularly confusing, with action sequences that feel familiar but make no sense. Without spoiling things, some characters, both good and bad, appear to stand idle as their allies get decimated by the opposition during the final battle, jumping into and out of the fray seemingly at random. It’s terribly clunky stuff, and it sadly sinks the film completely. Each of the main characters has an emotional epiphany amid all the commotion, but the feelings get lost in the whirlwind of illogical events.

Burton’s signature aesthetic often saves the day when the film is on the brink of disaster. The finalé sees an army of skeletons battle evil, invisible monsters on a pier, which doesn’t make a lick of sense but looks incredibly cool and harkens back to the glory days of Ray Harryhausen special effects. Another throwback to the claymation greats is a fun moment that sees Enoch reanimate two dolls and force them to fight on a tabletop; the handmade, stop-motion look still has a certain magic to it.

Also keeping the film afloat is Green, who’s perfectly prim, tough-as-nails, and gives the film a sense of weight that the younger actors try but fail to deliver. Butterfield is up and down, at times looking a little lost. He’s a natural hero type and has some good moments (his exchanges with O’Dowd are slick), but he often doesn’t seem to project quite enough when the scene calls for big emotion.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will likely be another forgotten entry in Burton’s expansive oeuvre, but its charms are not to be written off. Some of the bizarre character designs do capture the imagination, and kids used to gorging on blockbuster YA schlock will likely find themselves marveling (no pun intended) at the movie’s alternative take on the “gifted youngsters” gimmick.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.