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The kids are odd, right?

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'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'

Love him or hate him, there's no denying that Tim Burton is perhaps the weirdest big-budget auteur of his filmmaking generation. The brilliance of his early work bought him a lot of creative capital capital that he has been spending in a variety of wild and inconsistent ways over the past decade-plus.

Burton's latest sojourn into blockbuster filmmaking is 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children,' based on the 2011 Ransom Riggs novel of the same name. It's the story of a young man who discovers that the tall tales he spent his youth listening to his grandfather spin were all true, leading him on a globe-spanning adventure where he meets new friends with incredible abilities and winds up doing battle with monsters to save them.

It's a narrative that lends itself nicely to the gothic sumptuousness of Burton's aesthetic; he takes full advantage, creating a feast for the eyes. However, that visual splendor is offset by a convoluted and occasionally clumsy narrative that comes off as simultaneously inert and overly busy.

Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield, '10,000 Saints') is an average teenager living in Florida. He grew up listening to fantastical tales about a school for children with special abilities being spun by his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp, 'Big Eyes'), believing them to be true for many years before the cynicism of his teenage years along with the general disapproval of his mother (Kim Dickens, TV's 'Fear the Walking Dead') and father (Chris O'Dowd, 'The Program') open his eyes.

But when tragedy strikes, Jake is left to wonder just how much truth there might have been in what his grandfather told him. So he set off to a tiny island off the coast of Wales in search of answers.

And he finds some.

He discovers that Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is real. These 'peculiars' all are gifted with incredible abilities; there are children with super strength, with control over plants, with powers of fire and of invisibility all manner of strange skills. Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, TV's 'Penny Dreadful') can change into a bird and has a degree of control over the passage of time itself, having isolated the school in a time pocket known as a 'loop' which protects the children, but also keeps them the same age forever.

Jake finds his way into this world and meets these children; of particular interest is Emma (Ella Purnell, 'Wildlike'), a young lady who floats. But it isn't long before he discovers that the school and indeed all peculiars are in danger from the horrifying plans of the deranged peculiar scientist Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson, 'The Legend of Tarzan'), whose experiments on peculiars have transformed him and his associates into terrible and destructive monsters.

And in order to save them all, Jake must find a way to embrace his own peculiarity before it is too late.

First things first, this movie is stunning to look at. It's the kind of weirdo magic surrealism at which Burton excels, juxtaposing the mundane against the extraordinary. There's a familiarity to it all, with bits that hearken back to some of Burton's best work, but at least in visual terms it rarely comes off as derivative.

Unfortunately, the narrative doesn't quite manage the same level of success. There's an inconsistency to the storytelling, with a lot of moving parts that seem superfluous. Add to that the fact that there are wild swings in terms of tone; Burton's usual method of balancing the dark and sinister with elements of camp doesn't work to balance everything out, leaving the story muddled and a bit messy.

Butterfield is a talented kid and he fits well here, giving off a young, nerdy Depp vibe that Burton probably loves. Green is quite good, although it kind of feels like she's only here because Helena Bonham Carter was otherwise engaged. Jackson is actually pretty fantastic; he's unapologetically over the top and it's a delight to watch. The peculiar kids are decent enough, but none of them get much beyond one-note weird/cute/weirdly cute.

'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' is exactly the sort of movie that Tim Burton should be making. His unique eye and bizarre sensibility are a wonderful fit for this material. But while there's no disputing the eye-catching splendor of the world that's been created here, it is in service to a story that is ultimately a bit lacking. There are some pieces of grandeur - just not quite enough of them to fully salvage the whole.

[3.5 out of 5]


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