Teen years are for making friends and having fun but for Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) they are a hardship. He’s the weird kid in class, friendless except for his grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp) who keeps the boy entertained with wild stories about a life spent travelling the world and the Home for Peculiar Children where he was raised. He grew up side-by-side with a boy made of bees, a teacher who could turn into a bird, and a balloon girl, lighter than air who had to wear lead shoes so as not to float away.
When his Abe is attacked Jake arrives in time to catch his last, strange words. “I know you think I’m crazy but the bird will explain everything,” he says before urging the youngster to venture off to find out who, what, he really is. “I should have told you years ago. I thought I could protect you.”
Thus begins Jake’s adventure, a journey that leads him to a small island where Miss Alma LeFay Perigrine (Eva Green) a.k.a. The Bird Lady, attends to her brood of peculiar child. She has created a time loop, reset every day, to keep her peculiar safe and protect them from growing old. Every day is September 3, 1943 all day. An attack by Hollows (Samuel L. Jackson and others), evil creatures who steal the eyeballs of peculiar children, upsets Perigrine’s orderly time loop and gives Jake a chance to learn why he was sent to the island.
The first hour of “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” is pure Tim Burton. He creates a fanciful world—imagine quirkier “X-Men”—with all his trademarks—mid-century kitsch, topiary sculptures, weird creatures and characters straight out of the outer regions of the imagination—and a mythology all its own. World building is a fantasy director’s strongest asset, and Burton paints a pretty picture, it’s just too bad he gets bogged down in the story in the second half.
The mushy second half erases the charm of the first sixty minutes as fanciful dreaminess and unique stop motion effects give way to CGI overload. The film’s long climax seems to go on forever—as though the audience is in one of Miss. Perigrine’s endless time loops—in an orgy of digital trickery that betrays the feel of the piece. An army of skeletons is a cool homage to Ray Harryhausen and setting its macabre sequence to weird amusement park dance music is a nice Burton touch, but it pales by comparison to the smaller, more intimate touches that give the movie much of its personality.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” has some beautiful images—like Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), tethered to Jake like a balloon as he walks and she floats through an amusement park—but like many of Burton’s recent films the story feels like an afterthought.