Reel Talk

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the Fear of Change

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You know how sometimes movies come out, and people say that they’re great examples of other types of movies? Like how the Incredibles is the best Fantastic Four movie ever made, or how Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie. Well, we have a new movie that’s getting some of those comparisons. From the very first time I heard this movie discussed, all anyone thought of it as was “Tim Burton’s X-Men.” And it’s pretty hard to argue with that logic. Everything about the premise and promotional material basically sold it as exactly that. The same idea as X-Men, but with some Gothic, Tim Burton twist. Now, as I discussed on this site a little bit ago, there are some pros and cons for every new Tim Burton movie. His house style has gotten increasingly tiresome, and he doesn’t really have the best track record when it comes to movies that are adaptations. Tim Burton works best when he has limited resources and is doing something extremely personal. Or, at the very least, if he takes something that’s not personal and saturates it with enough of his style and aesthetic to change that. So, did we get a Tim Burton that gave a crap this time? Well…

The premise of Miss Peregrine’s follows a young man named Jake who gets embroiled in a secret world he never believed existed. He’d grown up hearing his grandfather tell him stories about a secret home for children in Wales that contained children with amazing abilities, that hide away from the rest of the world to keep themselves safe. Jake stopped believing in these stories, but when his grandfather abruptly dies under mysterious circumstances, he convinces his parents to let him go to the island in Wales that he claimed the home resided. At first it seems like his grandfather was just crazy, after Jake finds that the old children’s home is destroyed, and has been since World War II. But while looking around in the house, he ends up coming across some of the peculiar children. They know who he is, and bring him with them to a secret cave near the home that leads to a sort of time anomaly that takes them back to the 1940’s. Once there, Jake is brought to the real Home, and meets the mysterious Miss Peregrine, who starts to explain everything. Apparently there are people born in the world who have peculiar powers, and who are hidden away from the rest of the world. These types of people are protected by women with abilities to control time, and who create time-loops to protect them from the outside world. He also meets the rest of the children. The most important is his love interest (and his grandpa’s, which is weird) Emma, who has powers over air, and will float away like a balloon if she doesn’t wear weighted shoes. The rest of the children are more or less unimportant, barely have dialogue and exist just as things to protect. There’s a boy who can bring things to life, a girl who can light things on fire with a touch, a girl with a mouth  in the back of her head, a boy who can project his dreams, two creepy twins who turn out to basically be gorgons, a girl with super-strength, a boy made of bees, a girl who can control plants, and an invisible boy. But like I said, they’re mostly extraneous.

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Jake enjoys spending time with the kids, hiding from his dad back in the present, and starts to grow a bond with them. But while hanging out with them, he learns that not everything is hunky-dory. There are apparently former Peculiar’s out there who tries to become immortal, and ended up becoming monstrous creatures that basically look like the Slender Man. And their leader, Mr. Barron, is on a quest to kill all Peculiar’s. Oh, and he was the one who killed Jake’s grandfather, because it turns out that his grandfather, much like himself, was also a Peculiar. And their ability is basically just to see the monsters, which are otherwise invisible. So Jake learns that he can protect his new friends, and that that’s what his grandfather would have wanted. But when he goes to the present to deal with his father, he accidentally shows Mr. Barron the way into the time-loop. And when he’s in, he kidnaps Miss Peregrine to use for his experiments, and leaves the children to be killed by his monstrous colleagues. But the children rally together, and are able to defeat a monster, escape the house into the present, and storm Mr. Barron’s stronghold. They then use their abilities to fight Mr. Barron and his monsters, using a plan involving snowballs, cotton candy, and an army of violent skeletons. And a the end of the day, they’re able to stop Barron, kill some monsters,  and free Miss Peregrine. Jake then decides to abandon his family and his life to go back to the 40’s and live with the Peculiar Children.

There’s kind of a lot to unpack with this movie. I thought it was just kind of okay, not really becoming “The best X-Men movie,” like I’d heard people call it, but that comparison held up really well. This movie is virtually identical to an X-Men movie, but somehow less thought-out that one, while also simultaneously being extremely complicated. I know the movie was based on a novel, and I have to assume that it’s a pretty dense one, because there’s a whole lot of exposition and world-building shoved into this movie that makes it extremely clunky and unwieldy. But despite all of this, it’s a story about a group of people with special abilities who live in a giant mansion before a member of their kind who is twisted by his own pursuits comes to destroy their world. That’s an X-Men plot. Just without a lot of the social commentary and metaphor for minorities that those stories come equipped with. Now, I know that there’s a lot of controversy surrounding this movie right now, since it’s basically about a group of happy, wealthy white people trying to keep their 1940’s world safe from a mean, smart, black guy, but I’m not really here to talk about that. Better minds than me have written at length about the problematic racial components of this movie, and Burton’s extremely short-sighted reactions to them, but there’s something else that struck me about this movie, and left a weird taste in my mouth.

This movie really seems to have a weird message. The whole movie revolves around the Peculiar Children doing everything they can not to change, and to keep their world exactly how it should be. There are a couple scenes where they seem to be struggling against that confinement, but overall they seem cool with their time-loop existence, and their inability to age and change. They like being children without real responsibilities. Yeah, they act like they do, with their little chores and jobs, and the eternal struggle against Barron and his monster, but they really don’t. And that’s what makes the end of the movie so weird. Jake leaves his life to be with them and be trapped forever as a teenager without real responsibilities. He doesn’t even seem to tell his parents that he’s abandoning reality. It would be like if we were supposed to cheer that he decided to drop out of society and follow Phish around or something. Our protagonist decides to shirk responsibility, and live with children in a fairy tale for the rest of his life, never growing up and never becoming an adult. It’s a weird moral. I would have imagined that by the end of the movie the kids would all decide that they wanted to leave the House, and try to exist in the real world, actually grow as people. But instead they all decide to go back to their childhood and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Which sure isn’t a moral you see every day, and one that really worked detrimentally against the film.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was written by Jane Goldman, directed by Tim Burton, and released by 20th Century Fox, 2016.

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