Tim Burton Goes Lighter, Workman-Like With Miss Peregrine
A pedestrian work from a traditionally unique filmmaking voice.
Among the many legitimate criticisms that can be leveled against the filmography of Tim Burton, being yeoman-like is not one of them. Even his more straightforward films like 2014’s Big Eyes or 1999’s Sleepy Hollow can’t easily be categorized and dismissed as run-of-the-mill. In every Tim Burton movie, there’s a signature gothic style. This has a lot to do with his consistent visual tendencies, but is often aided by brooding Danny Elfman scores and casts of familiar muses (Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, etc.)
Burton’s latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, eschews almost everything that has defined the director’s filmography to date. There’s no Elfman score. In fact, the music from Kingsman composer Matthew Margeson (along with newcomer Michael Higham) is light and less emphatic. The color palette is lighter and more natural. And the cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie) is steady and without any wistful ambition.
None of this makes Miss Peregrine a bad movie. The adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ very popular young adult book is charming in many ways. Burton hangs a lot of the heavy lifting on his cast, including a solid performance from Asa Butterfield as a young man who loses his grandfather and discovers that he’s part of a lineage of peculiar people with unique abilities. It leads him to Miss Peregrine, played by Eva Green, and her home filled with oddities and wonder. Green gives as good a wry scowl as any working actor today, making her a good fit for the dark and mysterious Peregrine. And at some point, Samuel L. Jackson shows up as a sharp-teethed, white-eyed bad guy who is hunting peculiars to do some Samuel L. Jackson things.
There are little bits and bobs of Burtonism in the design of the children’s peculiarities – his love of creature design is on muted display. But the story itself is a straightforward, faithful adaptation of the source material. It’s a movie that will appeal to fans of the book, no doubt, and is tame enough (especially by Burton standards) to appeal to families. For longtime Burton fans waiting for things to get weird, the film never really pays off. Is this a sign that Burton has moved into a new phase of his career in which he will fade into studio movies, leaving behind his signature oddities? With a promised return to the world of Beetlejuice, that seems unlikely. But Miss Peregrine does stand out in his filmography for its plainness. There is charm in the world and enough energy to make it a brisk two-hour watch, but there’s little to elevate the source material beyond a few of the creaturey moments (many of which are already in the trailer).
One might imagine that there’s a little more magic to the film when viewed in 3D, but not much. Had I been shown Miss Peregrine without being told it was a Tim Burton film, I wouldn’t have guessed it. It’s a reasonably charming movie, but beyond a bit of creature work and a story about outcasts, there’s no definitive Burton-ness to it. It is the most troublesome type of studio movie: it’s just fine.