Tim Burton's films are primarily focused on outsiders—people who don't fit into mainstream society, and when they try, are either humiliated, heartbroken or forced to commit horrible acts of violence. If you look at "Edward Scissorhands," "Ed Wood," "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," and "Sleepy Hollow," you'll find stories of people leaving their comfort zones and trying to become accepted in the larger world, discovering what their limitations are and adjusting accordingly.
"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is filled with characters hiding from the outside world. They aren't hiding just because they're shy or embarrassed, but because if the bad guys find them, they will eat the eyes straight from their head. Personal stakes don't get much higher than that.
The story follows Jake Portman, a modern day 16-year-old kid who grew up hearing his grandpa's stories about a children's home filled with children with extraordinary abilities. He also heard about the Wights, the group of immortal, partially human creatures who hunt the children.
When Jake's grandfather is murdered by a hollowgast (a monster controlled by the Wights), he sees the creature and starts to doubt his own mental health. So he heads to Cairnholm Island in Wales to find the children's home his grandfather grew up in and prove to himself and his terrible father that he's not crazy.
The home is filled with kids with all sorts of weird and wonderful gifts. Millard is invisible, Olive is pyrokinetic, Fiona controls plants, Hugh has a beehive in his stomach, Enoch resurrects the dead, Emma controls air, and so on.
The house itself and the acreage around it exist in a time loop, controlled and maintained by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), a magical headmistress who can change into a bird. The time loop exists on a single day in 1940, so all of the children haven't aged a day physically, even as their minds have grown into adulthood and old age.
There is so much plot to the film (and novel), that character moments are few and far between. We never really get to know Jake other than his outward tics, and the peculiar kids are just built around a series of quirks. As gorgeous as some of the sequences of the film are, we never care enough about the characters to feel much jeopardy about their well being.
The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, setting up what the following book will focus on. The film, meanwhile, invents a terrible action climax that wraps up the story in a rushed and unsatisfying way. This will probably be the only time I complain about a possible franchise starter NOT leaving a few dangling threads.
Tim Burton was born to tell the story of these weird kids. It's like he got to dabble in the X-Men and Harry Potter universes while still indulging his baroque stylistic choices. There are definitely signs of a good movie here and Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography always makes the film interesting to look at, but, as has been Burton's habit for several films now, the film is just as soulless as its villains.
Dir. Tim Burton
Now Playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX