Tim Burton is a director with whom I've pretty much had a (mostly) hit and (occasionally) miss affair with. Beetlejuice first introduced me to his weird and wonderful idiosyncratic ways, with Michael Keaton giving a tour de force performance as the titular demon bio exorcist. Burton followed that with his colourful, vibrant take on the dark knight, whilst the dark fairytale Edward Scissorhands remains at the top echelon of his crowning achievements. Mars Attacks is great fun, whilst Sleepy Hollow is a terrific amalgamation of detective/ghost story and action adventure. However, Burton's vision for Batman Returns was less superhero escapade and more Freudian gothic fantasy. That's not to say different is not good, but the sequel was just a little too radical a departure from the tone of Batman (1989) for my superhero sensibilities. Burton's version of Planet of the Ape's was also a misfire, seemingly stripped of everything that is "Tim Burton", with only the alternate take on the original's famous ending saving it from being a filmic non-entity.
Somewhat surprisingly, since the turn of the century, I haven't followed Burton's career as closely as I did back in the late eighties and nineties - E.g. I've yet to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd or Alice in Wonderland. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is the first new Burton movie that I've seen in close to fifteen years! Adapted by Jane Goldman from Ransom Riggs' best selling debut young adult novel, it could be said that the source material represents the perfect vehicle for the director - if one was to use a rather lazy soundbite, it would be along the lines of Tim Burton meets the X-Men - with many of his signature themes written all over it. Filmed in Burton's distinctive trademark quirky style, it features an outsider thrust into a surreal world (Beetlejuice; and in a kind of inverse way, Edward Scissorhands). Plot wise, the protagonist's grandfather apparently telling 'tall tales' is reminiscent of Big Fish.
The story is about a young social outcast Jake (British actor Asa Butterfield) who, following a family tragedy in Florida, travels to Wales with his father seeking answers not only to what happened, but also to the greater purpose of his own life. As you might expect, Jake discovers much more than he could ever have imagined, and finds himself embroiled in a secret world where there is standoff between good and sinister "peculiars", with Jake being the key to the survival of the former. Along this journey, there are the usual staples of self discovery, romance, and Samuel L. Jackson having a blast in his "villain for hire" guise (essaying the part not too dissimilar to his role in Kingsmann).
Rising British actor (who is already something of an acting veteran at nineteen years old) Asa Butterfield is well cast as the protagonist Jake - gangly and awkward, he is far from your typical dashing teen hero, more so like a character from the work of Roald Dahl. Jake takes up the mantle of a saviour reluctantly, eventually finding the strength from within himself to inspire others. Eva Green is absolutely pitch perfect as the quirky, yet alluring guardian of the children's home - akin to a gothic Mary Poppins. The rest of the cast of "peculiars" reads like a "who's who" of precocious British talent, with the delightfully sweet Ella Purnell standing out as Jake's romantic interest, Emma Bloom. The rest of the adult cast are a bit hit and miss. As Jake's dad, Chris O'Dowd is too busy struggling with his American accent, whilst the evergreen Terence Stamp and Sam Jackson give reliable, if somewhat safe, performances. The latter does have a lot of fun - frequently expressing pantomime-esque exasperation to the lengths he has to go to get things done!
Adapting from Ransom Riggs' novel - which I haven't read, but going by the synopsis, sounds like it may have a darker tone than the film - Jane Goldman sprinkles a bit of her Stardust magic on proceedings. The film begins in a deceptively (and likely very deliberate) mundane fashion, before a mysterious and terrifying tragedy strikes. After Jake arrives in Wales, the narrative takes its time to explore the background of the characters, and the nefarious intentions of the rogue "peculiars." The rural Welsh setting is also welcome in that it makes a change from the usual USA locations. With the exposition sorted, the narrative switches gears very swiftly, moving to the business end of the film. From here, Burton earns his money, delivering a finale that combines adventure and excitement with his trademark flair for quirky surrealism. Be warned, as this is young adult fiction (with 'young adult' being the operative words), some scenes in the movie may be too unsettling for younger viewers!
Overall, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is solid family entertainment (as long as the makeup of the family are eight years and above!). Tim Burton was definitely the perfect choice of director for this material - although as I (unbelievably) haven't watched many of his latter career films post millennium, I'm unable to say whether Burton is back on form, but he certainly hasn't lost his touch.