Tim Burton is a wizard of odd. The best of his films take us into a world where anything is possible … but the impossible is even better. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, based on Ransom Rigg’s 2011 young-adult novel, is so crowded with incident that it sometimes seems in danger of imploding. But Burton has always had an affinity for the peculiar. so how could he resist Miss Peregrine? As played by the bracingly eccentric Eva Green (the Penny Dreadful star who worked with Burton in 2012’s Dark Shadows), Miss Peregrine is a Mary Poppins for society’s rejects. A girl with two jaws, a boy who can animate inanimate objects, some mysterious twins – it’s Willy Wonka meets the X-brats with a stop at Hogwarts.
Miss P herself can, at a moment’s notice, transform into a bird – a peregrine falcon, to be exact. Nazi bombs destroyed her Victorian orphanage on the Welsh island of Cairnholm during World War II. But do you think bombs can really touch her or her young charges? Nah. She’s devised time bubbles, loops lasting 24-hours in which her peculiar wards can stay safe, except they have to repeat the same day over and over like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, but not as hilarious. The loop has worked for over 70 years. But now a new villain named Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) is determined to penetrate this bizzarro Brigadoon, the better to chow down on the eyeballs of gifted kids.
I won’t give away Burton’s visual surprises. But I will say that the present breaks into the past in the person of Jacob (Asa Butterfield), a teen visitor from 21st-century Florida who wants to know about this enchanted place where his recently murdered grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) grew up in 1943. Seems reasonable. He thinks they’ll love his smartphone. It also gives Jacob the chance to hit on the gorgeous Emma (Ella Purnell), the same beauty his grandfather had a thing for.
Still with me? Don’t sweat it. Just go with the spell Burton casts with the help of screenwriter Jane Goldman (Stardust). Yes, the film feels overstuffed and way too familiar, with Burton repeating tricks from his greatest hits (think Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands). And the fun runs out much before the film ends. But stick with it just for those times when Burton flies high on his own peculiar genius.