The most in tune Tim Burton has been with a piece of material in years. There are dashings of imagination here, from full set-pieces to instances of scenic finesse, that see the famously design-orientated director fully engaged and present with the images he’s creating. There’s a gothic deep dive into a sunken ship, a monster that eats children’s eyeballs and the quirky ensemble of characters, even on a purely silhouette level, all look strikingly individual. Focusing on a gang of oddball kids, each with their own unique abilities and aesthetic identity, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is essentially Burton’s take on X-Men but it also makes you realise he would have made a terrific Harry Potter flick.
The film’s figurehead is Eva Green as the titular Miss, here perfectly at home in Burton’s world for the second time (following Dark Shadows). She’s the latest in the long line of Burton muses preceded by Winona Ryder, Lisa Marie and Helena Bonham Carter. He has anointed all of these actresses, at one point or another, into gothic royalty, each apparently chosen for their otherworldly aura, flowing raven hair and cheekbones that remind you there is a well-defined skull beneath all that porcelain skin. They are always the most interesting characters in Burton’s films and Green’s skewed, arch and wily Miss Peregrine is no different, though her young co stars certainly aren’t forgettable.
As per Burton’s MO, everyone and everything looks unreal. The big eyes from Big Eyes make a return in the form of Ella Purnell and the entire film is cloaked with a netherworld hue that transforms even Blackpool pier into a funhouse of ghoulish action. What makes this different from other recent Burton movies is that it has a pulse and heartbeat. This isn’t bogged down by corpse-like artificiality or a vomit of computer imagery which plagued Alice in Wonderland. Look at any number of director-for-hire Tim Burton movies and you can usually distil them down to one image that captured his imagination; the topps trading cards of Mars Attacks!, the paintings of Big Eyes and here it is Ransom Riggs’ novel, which took strange vernacular photos of eerie children and spun an entire young adult universe out of them. It proved to be a potent spark of the imagination for Burton, who transforms it into something distinctly his own, managing to inject visual nods to everything from Ray Harryhausen to Ed Wood.
Burton’s entire filmography has been a celebration of freaks, oddities and outcasts and this film feels like a catch-all culmination of his obsessions, held together by a warm and passionate hand. There’s care in this movie. You can imagine Edward Scissorhands or any number of sketches from his notebooks joining Miss Peregrine’s home and being welcomed with open arms. It’s the best Tim Burton film in a long time, and one of the few which feels more alive, not tiresome, for being totally Burton-esque.