My very first impression of Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was that it was every bit as magical and delightful as the early Harry Potter movies (the ones before the story took a decidedly grim turn). The visuals were a delight, the peculiar children endearing, and the horrible monsters creepy and spine-tingling. Burton got it just right – you can tell it’s his film, but he doesn’t go over the top with the weirdness, as he had done with the Alice movies and his remake of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.
The movie tells the story of Jacob (Asa Butterfield), whose wacky old grandfather spent his lifetime filling the young boy’s head with tales of a special school for particularly unique children on a remote island off the coast of Wales, led by the mysterious Miss Peregrine (beautifully played by incomparable Eva Green, with her large smoky eyes and husky voice). Jacob’s parents always dismissed Grandpa’s stories, believing they were a metaphor for his experiences as a Jewish child sent away to escape the horrors of WWII Germany. But things change dramatically when Jacob finds his grandfather near death in the woods behind his home, and sees horrific spindly-legged creatures hovering nearby.
No one believes Jacob, of course, and his parents send him to a shrink, who encourages him to travel to the island to discover the truth about his grandfather. Dad reluctantly agrees to the trip, and it is there that Jacob enters the fantastical world of Miss Peregrine and her brood of “peculiar” children: Emma, who, if not wearing steel boots, can fly, Olive, who can start fires with her hands, Enoch, a bully who could stick hearts into objects and make them come alive. There’s also an invisible boy, a strong girl, and a boy who has bees living inside of him.
Jake learns that he too is peculiar – he is one of the few who can see the monsters – the wights and the Hollows, whose goal is to destroy the “embrynes” – those women who can transform into birds and control time, like Miss Peregrine. When the school is attacked and Miss Peregrine and another embryne captured, the peculiars embark on a spectacular adventure to save them.
I enjoyed the film so much I had to go out right away and read the novel. Which was somewhat of an uh-oh, as it totally changed my perception of the film. Those who have read the books before seeing the movie are going to have a few problems with it. The first being the major change in the character of Emma, who in the book is tough, resilient, and is the fire starter, not the sweet, floating blonde angel depicted in the film. The other major problem is that the film goes way beyond the events of the first book, dipping into books two and three. The books are also way more serious in tone, and much, much darker (as in lots of people die).
I really wanted to the love the film for just being what it was, but am also disappointed, having read the books now, in that it misses so much of what it could have been.