Imagine "X-Men," "Alice in Wonderland," "Edward Scissorhands" and "Toy Story" all dropped in to a blender. Tim Burton has proved, yet again, why he's one of the greatest and most unique filmmakers of our time.
While his films over the past few years ("Big Eyes," "Dark Shadows") haven't been on par with his classics, you can't deny that he's still a very consistent filmmaker. All of the greatest filmmakers have made a few sub-par films; Spielberg, Hitchcock, Coppola, Scorsese. That's why I always found it interesting that Quentin Tarantino would say he wanted to retire after a certain number of movies. He has this thought that once he passes a certain point, he should stop making movies so that everything he made would still be on that same level.
With "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," Burton takes on the story from the popular book that just lends itself beautifully to Burton's cinematic world. The writing just feels like it was meant for Burton to make a film out of it. The beauty of Tim Burton is that he's still that excited kid making stop-motion films. As he gets older, I feel that his passion and love for filmmaking remains the same. There are moments in the film, specifically his cameo sequence, that just scream out that he's having the time of his life.
I mention stop-motion because it's been such a massive part of Burton's career. Obviously, with creating/producing "The Nightmare Before Christmas," directing "The Corpse Bride," "Frankenweenie" and back to one of his first films; "Vincent," he's shown that this medium is far from dead. While it's not used heavily in cinema today, it still feels so fresh and lively when you see it again on the big screen. While the majority of the film is live action mixed with CGI, there are a few classic moments of stop-motion animation. There's one particular moment in the film where a character named Enoch (Played by Finlay MacMillan) brings to life two puppets as they have a battle match to the death. This sequence is beyond magical because you see this epic wide shot of all the live action actors sitting around a table while the two stop-motion puppets come to life to fight. Burton then cuts to a tight shot of the two puppets fighting in all their stop-motion glory. To this day, I still can't believe that these puppets have to be moved twenty-four times to create one second of motion. Any fans of Burton will recognize this moment as a great nod to his early filmmaking days.
Speaking of nods, the film has great references back to some of Burton's best work including my personal favorite of his; "Edward Scissorhands." You will notice some very similar shots in regards to neighborhoods and bushes during the film. I'm not sure if this was intentional but one of the last fight scenes in the film gave me a reminder of Sam Raimi's "Army of Darkness."
The film tells the story of a young boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield), who goes on a journey to learn his true identity. His grandfather, played brilliantly by Terrence Stamp, always told Jake about a home for peculiar children that was lead by Miss Peregrine (Played by Eva Green). Jake was told these children had unique peculiarities like invisibility, super human strength, etc. Though, as Jake became older he was teased about believing his grandfather's stories to a point where he didn't believe them anymore. Though, it turns out that everything his grandfather, Abe, said was true. After a tragic event, Jake finds himself at this home and learns that he might be the only thing that can save the children.
I want to point out the incredible performance from Ella Purnell. Purnell plays Emma Bloom, who immediately catches the eye of Jake. Her peculiarity is that she's lighter than air. She requires heavy boots to keep her on the ground and she can breath underwater. There's a sequence with Emma and Jake that is literally breathtaking. I've seen this scene three times now and it still blows my mind every single time. Both Jake and Emma dive down in to the water to a sunken ship. As they get inside, Emma clears the room with her air and it's just astonishing to watch. There's a great moment as they are descending underwater where she blows an air bubble around Jake's head. When they were shooting this scene, Asa Butterfield had to actually be underwater but because it appeared he was breathing underwater, they had to make his hair look like he had just gotten out of the water. It's an incredible shot that pays so much attention to detail.
The film has incredible messages about acceptance and love that are just timeless. Burton does such a great job with the storytelling and the direction. The film is gorgeously shot and scored. While Burton usually works with composer, Danny Elfman, he worked with Michael Higham and Matthew Margeson this time around. Margeson composed scores for such films as "Eddie the Eagle" and "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse." While, Higham worked in the music department on such films as "Inception" and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." As a massive Elfman fan, I was surprised at how much I loved Higham/Margeson's score for this film. It really blended beautifully with Burton's storytelling. Keep an ear out for a great techno element at the end of the film which was so different from anything I'd heard in a Burton film before.
My only issue with the film was the middle section. There were moments where it feels like it drags a bit but once you reach that ending, you are so overwhelmed by the incredible storytelling and effects that you forget about the slower pacing early on. I do think a couple of scenes could have been cut to give the movie a cleaner pacing.
"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" receives a 4/5 rating.
Keep an eye out for the Tim Burton cameo in the film. It's VERY quick and if you notice it, send me an email to Kevin.McCarthy@Foxtv.com. I would love to hear from you if you see it, or don't see it.
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