Review Roundup: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Is Typical Tim Burton, for Better or Worse

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Adapted from Ransom Riggs’s enormously popular 2011 YA novel, Tim Burton’s latest ode to fanciful oddities, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, has been praised as a return to his gleefully goth sensibilities and criticized as a hybrid of both Harry Potter and X-Men.

Leaving a better taste in critics’ mouths than this year’s vastly disappointing Alice in Wonderland sequel, Burton’s tale of peculiar children and a fascinating, shape-shifting headmistress has been relatively well-regarded by reviewers despite its glaring lack of diversity. Although some considered the film’s ending to be a CGI-filled disappointment, Eva Green, especially, has been applauded for her turn as the campy yet vivacious leader of this ragtag group of outsiders. Here’s a roundup of what critics said about the film:

“The story gets awfully busy — you may get lost in 1943 or perhaps closer to the present — but it scarcely matters. Mr. Burton’s attention to detail and to the ebb and flow of tone (scary, funny, eerie), as well as his sensitive, gentle work particularly with the child actors, make each new turn another occasion for unfettered imagination. As time loops and eyeballs pop and Samuel L. Jackson shows up as a villain and then Judi Dench drops in for a while, the movie holds you tight with one after another marvelous, horrible, indelible vision. Here, women turn into birds and a boy holds a rope tied to the waist of a girl who, in turn, floats above him like a balloon, a thought and a dream.” —Manohla Dargis, the New York Times

“Everything but the kitchen sink goes into this buoyant fantasy-adventure from Tim Burton, adapted by Jane Goldman from the 2011 bestseller by Ransom Riggs. It rattles amiably along, although it’s a little overextended and loses something of its control and focus by the end. This is a sort of classic time-travel mystery: shades of Tom’s Midnight Garden and When Marnie Was There, with a touch of X-Men. There’s a nice pipe-smoking turn by Eva Green as Miss Peregrine (although like all smokers in the movies, she abandons her habit after the first few scenes) and some very creepy monsters who appear to be modelled on Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at The Base of a Crucifixion.” —Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children certainly brings back that youthful feeling. The wonder of discovery! The exhilaration of possibility! The mild headache of trigonometry midterms! The film, based on the YA novel, is a Tim Burton special, a macabre mystery tour across space and time and in and out of fantasy. It just can’t stop coming up with limitlessly peculiar stuff, much of which has a familiar odor: It’s X-Men meets Alice in Wonderland meets Groundhog Day, plus there’s a kind of Addams Family versus the Holocaust vibe — ‘They’re creepy, they’re spikey, they’re totally Third Reich-y.’ (Ghosty bad guys are called hollowgast.) Miss Peregrine’s etc., etc. isn’t just an explosion at the imagination well. It’s a Deepwater Horizon of ideas, a flaming wreck of a rig that spews so much creativity in every direction I was ducking for cover, scrambling for an escape hatch.” —Kyle Smith, New York Post

“Though its cabinet-of-wonders aesthetic and meticulously appointed visuals announce it as a Burton movie through and through, this is easily the director’s finest work since his masterful 2007 screen adaptation of Sweeney Todd, and a striking reminder of what an unfettered gothic imagination can achieve with the right focus and an infusion of discipline. It’s surely no coincidence that both Sweeney Todd and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children are distinguished by their exceptionally strong source material. Riggs’ book, in particular, notably integrated a series of eerie vintage photographs into its narrative, but that innovation aside, it rests comfortably alongside other classic tales of alienated youths who abandon their humdrum lives and vanish into far-flung realms of the absurd and macabre.” —Justin Chang, the Los Angeles Times

“I’m wondering if the mutant kids at Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children ever play basketball against their rivals across the pond, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. I’d watch that. I’d certainly rather watch that than Tim Burton’s adaptation of the popular children’s book about a school for freakishly gifted children. This is a messy, confusing, uninvolving mishmash of old-school practical effects and CGI battles that feels … off nearly every misstep of the way. It’s like watching a master musician play a piano he somehow doesn’t realize is out of tune.” —Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun Times

“The title may read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but there can be no doubt for anyone buying a ticket: This is really Tim Burton’s Home for Peculiar Children. Not since Sweeney Todd, and before that all the way back to Sleepy Hollow, have the studios found such a perfect match of material for Hollywood’s most iconic auteur. It’s gotten to the point where the mere addition of Burton’s name to a movie title can justify an otherwise iffy prospect: You don’t want to see a Planet of the Apes remake? Well, how about a Tim Burton Planet of the Apes remake? Now you’re interested! Here, there’s nothing forced about the coupling of Ransom Riggs’ surprise best-seller with Burton’s playfully nonthreatening goth aesthetic and outsider sensibility, which should put the director back on the blockbuster charts.” —Peter Dubruge, Variety

“I don’t want to oversell Miss Peregrine as some sort of ruminative mood piece about the human experience. It’s not. It’s a kid’s film, co-starring Samuel L. Jackson as an eyeball-eating mad scientist. But it’s the rare kid’s film that has a sense of risk and stakes and tension to it, that admirably dares to be violent and unsettling and sad. Those qualities have long been Burton’s bailiwick—but here, he finally synthesizes them together in a way that’s coherent and thoughtful. Miss Peregrine is a testament to finding the perfect material to match a director’s tastes, rather than trying for some hideous compromise, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Alice in Wonderland. As Tim Burton’s best film in almost a decade, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has an exciting air of rejuvenation about it. It’s confident and judicious with its peculiarities, while letting its heart and intellect—not Johnny Depp in a bad wig—be its stars.” —Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“For at least the first hour, perhaps a bit more, Tim Burton seems well on his way to making one of his best films in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The director, whose style has remained distinctively recognizable across 18 features in 30 years even as his inspiration has varied, seems entirely in synch with the most pertinent aspects of Ransom Riggs’$2 2011 young adult best seller, especially with the odd vintage photographic elements the author so spookily employed, and the eccentric British setting is right up the director’s alley. But, alas, then the beauty and the bane of mass market contemporary cinema — CGI and enormous special effects — take over and marginalize the genuine narrative conviction that has up to then been generated in this cleverly conceived confection.” —Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

“Miss Peregrine has all the visual hallmarks of your classic Burton—a child with teeth on the back of her head, a girl who wears lead shoes to keep from floating away (Ella Purnell, swapping powers with another character from the book). But the film chooses style over substance, emphasizing how cool the children’s powers are without fleshing them out as full characters. To compete with Burton’s best, his heroic weirdos need a little more heart—and the monsters need sharper teeth.” —Devan Coggan, Entertainment Weekly

“But what’s happened to Burton’s gift for storytelling? In the movie’s second half, it’s impossible to follow the story’s gnarled-vine logic. The picture’s elegance devolves into chaos, a mess of noisy, cluttered action sequences, as if Burton didn’t trust us to sit still through something quieter, moodier and more controlled. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children could have been a return to form for Burton, but he loses his sense of direction halfway through. If only he could find his way back to his wild bread-crumb trail, the one that guided him so ably for years.” —Stephanie Zacharek, Time

“Thank God for Eva Green. The patron saint of bad movies for (and/or about) teenage boys, Green plays Miss Peregrine herself, a character who could easily have been reduced to ‘sexy Dumbledore’ if not for the vibrance and presentness of the actress who plays her. A witchy woman who can turn into a bird — a peregrine, in fact! — and is capable of suggesting a far greater mystery than the film is able to muster for itself, she’s the only person here who feels like they haven’t heard this story before (Samuel L. Jackson gets credit for trying, giving his giddy, goofy villain the full Nicolas Cage treatment while losing a war of attrition against a script that invites him to be silly but needs him to be stupid).” —David Ehrlich, Indiewire

Miss Peregrine’s Review Roundup: Burton As Usual