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Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (3D) (AF)


Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O'Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson, Kim Dickens, O-Lan Jones, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Georgia Pemberton, Milo Parker, Pixie Davies, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Cameron King, Raffiella Chapman

Director: Tim Burton

Since Tim Burton made his name with movies about oddball protagonists, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Corpse Bride among them, the title alone of Ransom Riggs’s best-seller marks Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children as the perfect story for Burton to transform into a landmark fantasy film.

Which, for much of the time here, he does, particularly visually, thanks to stunning seamless special effects which bring the story’s wild assortment of creatures of the imagination vividly to life and Bruno Delbonnel’s atmospheric 3D cinematography.

The title sums up the essential narrative arc. Youngster Asa Butterfield (unforgettably, for me, unexpectedly towering over director Martin Scorsese in the on-stage cast line-up at the premiere of ‘Hugo’) takes the lead.

In Florida Butterfield learns about the eponymous school from his Polish-refugee grandfather (Terence Stamp, terrific) who spent time there as a child. And after Stamp is slain by a weird monster, Butterfield travels to an island off Wales (population 92), where the school is situated to follow up his grandfather's leads.

And he ends up inside the strange school (a genuine Gothic fairy tale style building located near Antwerp) where he is welcomed by pipe-smoking headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) who explains to the understandably amazed lad that she is an ymbrynes who is able to create a loop in time that protects the school and its inhabitants – but only by repeating the same day over and over.

But now all is threatened by beastly Baron (Samuel L Jackson, sporting shiny huge white teeth and a hilarious white wig) who leads his army of monsters called hollowgasts intending to find immortality for himself by doing away with Green and her oddball pupils.

Which leaves Butterflied and the peculiar children to save the day. Which they do by sailing to Blackpool in a sunken ship conveniently raised from the sea bed by the clever kids and locking horns – and all kinds of other things – with Baron and his scary creatures.

Which, of course, they do, employing not only their extraordinary assortment of talents including weightlessness, invisibility, the ability to spit out live bees, boil a kettle by placing a hand on it, a girl whose mouth - situated at the back of her head - comes in useful at just the right time, a regiment of ant-villain skeletons and other even more weird creations, bringing the wild affair to a thrilling, magically inventive battle on the pier at Blackpool … and, of course, the requisite happy ending…

The film earns its 12A certificate. Burton and company’s monsters and creatures of the imagination are suitably scary although, to be fair, these days kids raised on television and the internet will probably be less scared than accompanying adults.

The set pieces of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children are alone worth the prices of admission. When it comes to movie magic – strange, funny, hair-raising or seriously scary – Burton has few equals.

Performances, too, are mostly spot-on. You may feel that Jackson goes far enough over the top to bring down witches on their high-flying broomsticks, but his zany impersonation of a provincial pantomime villain in full flood seems perfectly suited to a movie whose lively climax takes place in Blackpool.

It’s a pity, though, that scenarist Jane Goodman’s adaptation of Ransom Riggs' best-selling novel (more than 3.1 million copies sold and years on the New York Times best-seller list), serves the original less well than it should.

There are rather too many sequences where characters explain the storyline to each other as though nobody involved had read the script and some of the dialogue sounds as though the lines would be beter encased in comic-book style outlines.

No matter, in the final analysis, it's a home worth visiting.

Think X-Men, juvenile style - Burton and Co. definitely deliver a fun-and-fantasy tall tale that thrills, chills and entertains in turn, decorated with stunning special effects.

(If the Addams Family fancied a night out at the cinema, they couldn't do much better than this)

Alan Frank

UK/Belgium/USA 2016. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Technicolor.
127 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 27 Sep 2016