I actually caught Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children a little while ago when Clau and I got the library movie dongle a few weeks back, but seeing as how the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was sitting in my TBR pile just waiting to be read, I thought I would save it for when I finished the book. It’s almost as if my past self and my now self were collaborating to truly mindfucl my was-then-but-not-quite now self who was reading the damn thing. Wait, what?
Whatever happened in my moment of temporal quickening, I’m glad I waited to write this review. Generally speaking a book is always better than the movie, owing to the fact that your mind is a much larger screen than even the expanses of popcorn and stadium seating can provide. Miss Peregrine, though, benefited in the best way from Tim Burton’s rare light touch, and spun off into a perfect little pocket universe that complements the book in the best way. Ahem. But let me loop back to the beginning.
The premise of both the movie and the book is the death of our young, strapping protagonist Jacob’s grandfather at the hands of some writhing monster in the dark. Witnessing such truly mind-bending fuckery, young Jacob is convinced he is mad… by literally everybody but himself. And it’s a convincing argument, given that his grandfather Abe used to go on and on about these old, clearly doct
ored photographs of peculiar children… a girl floating a foot off the ground, a baby held up by invisible means, a girl that hot in the 1940’s… Anyway. The point is Jacob’s family and even his shrink thinks grandpappie’s stories are bupkum, so Jacob, in a therapeutic fit, decides to go to the orphanage where all of these stories took place. The orphanage, on Cairnholm Island in Wales, that sheltered Abe from the war. The orphange, bombed out years and years ago, that turns out to be the secret home of Miss Peregrine’s truly peculiar children, kept safe in a time loop of one particular day in 1940, in the height. The kids fly! They run! They throw fire and threaten to kill you for being a spy! They got mouths on the backs of their heads! They have really bad breath in the movie!
Everything your old crazy grandpa told you was true, Jacob. I’m surprised you didn’t run screaming from the place in dead tree or high-def terror.
Here’s the place that the book and the movie branch off. Let’s go with the movie first, because it’s Tim Burton and Tim Burton is always easier to explain. You got your unresolved daddy, your grim yet alluring aesthetic, and tons of thin pinstripey lines. Done and Done!
Well, it’s a bit better than that. What Burton has done is chop the ending of the book slightly to give it a rounder, neater finish, and to introduce familiar movie tropes. The best example of this the lead heroine, who is no longer the literally flaming redhead Emma, but the flying girl Olivia. My guess is this choice was done to accommodate the truly magnificent underwater scenes in the film, and to utilize the wonderful setting of downed World War II boats around Carinholm Island in a more cinematic way. It does the job brilliantly, and doesn’t take away from Emma’s original role as a resourceful, plucky romantic love interest who doesn’t take shit from Jacob. Well done, Mr. Burton. Other things seem to have been added to round off the wonky time travel bits for a movie audience, like Miss Peregrine’s pocket watch. In the end the movie ending doesn’t make room for a sequel, but because of it the film has a rounder, more complete feel, and stands on its own as a great story.
This film was also a lovely example of Eva Green getting to be somebody other than the femme fatale, which was refreshing and flattering. The colors are still classic Burton gothic wonderland, but they’re set against 1940s backdrops that give them a bit of character. Then there’s the cast of peculiar children, who really were very wonderful to watch. I found myself terrified along with them, and filled with courage and disgust with them when we discovered what the monsters really were. It’s the Goonies gone Goth, in the best way. Other changes that I liked are the way the Hollows kill, which I think was done to make the film appropriate for younger audiences, and the addition of a boardwalk carnival. Who doesn’t love a carny? My favorite addition to Riggs’ first book might be the explanation for the twins.
Now the book is another can of army rations altogether. Cracking it open, you might not immediately recognize it placed against the movie. We open with our protagonist Jacob, who has some pretty legitimate beef with his family business and the way they treat poor grandpa. But behind his neck-high pool of snark and the Holden Caulfield ennui is a genuine and conflicting love for his family that isn’t in the book. And the way the book introduces the father shows how Burton made the film dad truly despicable in a way we’ve grown to love about Burton films. Oh Tim, you’re still dealing with that trauma after all these years.
What Peculiar Children: Dusty Tome Version reminds me of is House of Leaves. It’s a situation where the monsters are waiting in the dark and the protagonist, and by proxy the reader, knows nothing about them. We’re obliged to climb into the orphanage to find out, and that’s a very different ride from the film version. It’s a haunted house you have to walk through, not a Disneyland automated attraction. And that makes the paired book and movie combination truly a joy to go through. We’re introduced to deeper and more relatable characters in the book, but the movie gives us the glamour of being different on the big screen. The movie gives us the happy ending, but the book suggests more beyond the last page. I am highly looking forward to the sequel, Hollow City, though that’s still in paper form.