Some may not like the fact this doesn’t scream Tim Burton as we’d expect, but I myself didn’t miss the things we’ve come expect from him in recent years. And that’s not always a good thing - his recent offerings have been very busy, very eccentric to the point it’s nothing but fantasy comedy resting on the shoulders of people like Johnny Depp to carry it along.
I’m a fan of ‘Batman’ and ‘Beetlejuice’. That’s it. I know we expect psychedelic spirals, gothic horror, spooky music form Danny Elfman and, as stated, Johnny Depp popping up to do whatever the hell he wants. But here it’s a family friendly story that is more X-Men spliced with Nanny McPhee, all grounded with a very un-Burton like direction and guided by one Eva Green. All in all, it’s a safe but satisfying quirky 2hrs.
Our peculiar children are a joy. None come across as annoying or under-used. They are likeable, a little bit creepy in their own right but never a burden to watch and chuckle along with. I do hope we get a sequel to give them more time to shine and develop as they’re clearly having a blast in their roles. Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell, as Jake and head peculiar Emma, are the typical teens struggling to control their “first crushes” as well as “battling evil to save the world” we often see - that typical teenage angst we all go through.
It’s harmless stuff, and both leads, as with all the children, are worth investing in with their range of abilities and personal struggles. It’s nothing new, but it’s a refreshing pace and style of story that we’ve not had in 2016. And with stellar support from the deliciously creepy Samuel L Jackson and a surprise role for Judi Dench, we are in good company here.
But Eva Green is our new Mary Poppins for the emo generation. She’s perfect as the strict, caring and devoted teacher-cum-mother-cum-sorceress Miss. Peregrine. Dressed head to toe in black, rocking a 1940s hair-style and smouldering eyes to accompany her sultry voice, she is hypnotic to watch and listen to, and gives equal doses of devoted carer to these children she loves more than anything, and loving mother at times of desperation. Eva needs more leading roles like this, because she has been a winning talent since coming to our attention back in 2006 with ‘Casino Royale’.
Our story can be a little complicated at times - crossing time loops with immoral monsters and avocet birds and peculiar powers along with the backdrop of World War II, along with the usual drama of love, loss and struggling to prove you’re not insane...there’s a lot to take in and process to make sense of things and who is what and why things happen. But, on the other hand, it’s easy to understand that Eva Green and her children need to use their powers to defeat Samuel L Jackson - just remember than and enjoy the show. Don’t think too hard.
The steady pace of the first two acts is gentle enough, with some lovely Welsh scenery and a very vintage feel to things. We have a few scares along the way, but nothing that will traumatize young children the way other Burton films could do. It’s all done in a family friendly way. The third act however is where Burton starts to have fun; set in Blackpool (a seaside fairground resort in the north of England for our international friends) we have snowball and candy-floss (cotton candy) fights with 9ft high snarling monsters, skeletons fighting on the North Pier in a short but highly enjoyable Ray Harryhausen tribute and a host of peculiar powers that help our mini heroes take down the creepy bad guys in a gore-less confrontation.
Another thing that adds to the fun is the visual effects, all of which I think are top of the game. From under water to high in the sky, we have so many visual treats that Burton drip feeds us, it does nothing to remind you that his imagination and creativity is second to none. Sure it may not be his best work, but it’s up there for a film to watch as a family that doesn’t become overly silly or overly quirky. It’s got heart, too, and it’s presented in a visually satisfying way.
So yes, this is a Tim Burton film and he doesn’t hold back on a few jumpy moments and creative flair from his scary monsters and entertaining sequences (the WW2 bombing freeze is a chilling but clever moment), he also brings a new spin to the Burton template with a different cast who excel in their roles and a story many may not have heard about before until now.
It is a peculiar, fun film, but if you weren’t expecting that from the title or the director at the helm, then I don’t know what you really expected at all.