Tim Burton has made so many hit movies at this point, he can direct a movie that grossed nearly $300 million dollars at the box office and stars a ridiculous slew of talented actors and it is still forgotten just a few years later. Case in point: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The 2016 fantasy film was a box office hit (even taking into account its sizable budget) and was adapted from a New York Times best-selling book of the same title, and yet still, it made essentially no impact in pop culture after it left theaters. Except that now it is not only streaming on the free service Freevee, but it is also currently one of their top ten most-watched movies. And boy, is it ever a Tim Burton movie.
Although Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was based on a novel by Ransom Riggs (which has since spun off into a series of young adult novels), it seems as though it were developed in a laboratory to be a Tim Burton project. The essential premise is that there is an X-Men-style mansion full of children stuck in a World War II-era time loop and these children are exceptionally…well, peculiar. This allows a lot of opportunity for child-sized weirdos in old-fashioned clothing to show off odd powers while being watched over by a beautiful, goth-adjacent headmistress, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, continuing her run as the latest Tim Burton muse). There are some creepy stop-motion dolls made by a grumpy child who can create life. There is also a bunch of spooky monsters obsessed with said children, and a normcore Florida child to act as a point of entry character for audiences. That last bit is a little less Tim Burton than usual, but that’s adaptation for you.
Said POV child is Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) who is immediately characterized as bullied and out of place in Florida (another check on the Tim Burton bingo card). One day, he finds his beloved grandfather (Terence Stamp) dying with holes where his eyes should be; at the suggestion of his therapist (an underutilized Allison Janney), Jake and his father (Chris O’Dowd) travel to a ruined children’s home where Stamp used to live. The majority of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children takes place on Cairnholm, a fictional island off the coast of Wales; you can tell that it is cold and dismal there because everything is drowned in a cold blue filter.
However, it becomes apparent that Stamp’s dying words to seek out a time loop of a certain date is a clue for Jake to discover the home for children, preserved in an eternally repeating 24 hours before a Nazi bombardment. In the past, the cold blue filter drops and colors begin to vividly pop. It is an interesting take for the frozen past to be full of life and the modern-day to be eternally dull and drained of energy, but that definitely seems like Tim Burton.
Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children also stars a number of other dramatic ringers, including Judi Dench as the headmistress of a different, equally peculiar home for children, a pre-Yellowjackets Ella Purnell as Jake’s love interest, a girl who requires lead shoes to keep from floating away in the sky, and Samuel L. Jackson as the chief monster looking to devour the peculiar childrens’ life essences (basically). As you might expect, Samuel L. Jackson fully commits to the role of a shapeshifting monster who eats eyes with an enthusiasm only matched by Eva Green’s prim weirdness.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was Tim Burton’s immediate follow-up to Big Eyes, his biopic drama about American artist Margaret Keane and her legal struggles with her husband Walter Keane. While that movie did moderately well against its low budget and showed a rare inclination for Tim Burton to move away from outright gothic fantasy, it seemingly did not garner enough critical momentum for the director to try another low-key film. Combined with the abysmal performance of 2012’s pseudo-comedy Dark Shadows, he seemed eager to leap back into the comfort zone. And with this particular home for peculiar children, Tim Burton most definitely did go back to what he is known for.