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After a number of disappointing recent films, most notably Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland, and the horrid Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton finally bounces back with Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, a teenage adventure that plays to his strengths while staying away from his more over-familiar visual tics.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins far from the titular school with Jake (Asa Butterfield) a disaffected Florida teen who doesn’t quite fit in with the modern world. Not for any particular reason, he just feels “off”. Ignored for the most part by his almost comically distant, bird-watching father (Chris O’Dowd) and workaholic mother (a blink and you’ll miss it appearance from Gone Girl’s Kim Dickens), his only real connection is with his grandfather Abe (Terrance Stamp) who’s slowly succumbing to dementia.

After a particularly gruesome family tragedy, Jake is spurred into investigating his grandfathers tall tales further; tales Jake had assumed were his grandfathers way of dealing with the horrors of World War 2. Before long before he comes across the eponymous school, ruined since being bombed in 1943 and that’s when things get …”peculiar”

Freak Like Me

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Coming off as a cross between a more fantastical Xaviers School for the Gifted and Hogwarts, Miss Peregrines school is a haven for the “peculiar”, those with a recessive gene at allows them to do amazing things like mastery over the air, control over plants or pack ridiculous levels of strength into in a teensy, tiny frame. This school, and others like it, is hidden from prying eyes by Miss Peregrine herself (Eva Green), a “Ymbryne” who can control time. She safely wraps the school away in a single day that is endlessly repeated, keeping the children safe but ageless.

Who do the children need to be hidden from? That’s something Jake, and the audience, will discover soon enough.

Directing Jane Goldman’s (Kick-Ass, Stardust, Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class & Days of Future Past) adaptation of Ransom Riggs 2012 bestseller seems to agree with Burton, at least as far as his audiences enjoyment goes. While Jake’s dreary Florida existence evokes the white picket fences of Burton’s own Edward Scissorhands, here it’s a much more grounded vision. Even the “peculiar kids””, a concept ripe for Burtons traditional styling, maintain an element of realism that does the film’s story justice. Most, if not all of Burton’s sometimes derided tropes are missing. The emphasis here is on the story, characters and entertainment over the visuals.

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Ugly?

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Not to say that the design of the film is pedestrian. Burton still finds ways to be inventive within constraints, like the climax in, and around, a typically dreary Blackpool end of pier funfair. Burton makes such a setting feel fresh and inventive, even managing to make the usual awful techno music on the rides part of the action. It’s the exact opposite of what anyone who’s been to such an place would expect.

That’s where Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children outshines some of Burton’s less well received recent productions. It’s fun!

Asa Butterfield is sympathetic and resourceful as the lost Jake, even if the movie makes fun of his American accent (Butterfield is English). Despite being saddled with the role of Burton’s most recent Helen Bonham Carter stand-in and the forced whimsy shown in early trailers, Ella Purnell’s Emma is more than a a manic pixie dream-girl and far more capable than Jake. The rest of the kids do well and the sight of a small girl, with Shirley Temple ringlets, throwing around objects far, far bigger and heavier than she is, never fails to raise a grin. Meanwhile Finlay MacMillan harkens back to the far more creepy, yet likeable characters from Burton’s past.

The supporting cast features also decidedly entertaining turns from Terrance Stamp, Dame Judi Dench, The West Wing’s Allison Janney and Rupert Everett. Samuel L. Jackson, when he finally turns up , is a distillation of the charming villain role he’s vistied over and again from Jumper to Kingsman:The Secret Service. This time he’s sporting a wicked Doc Brown style hairdo and teeth that really allow him to chew on the scenery, albeit in a good way.

Too Lost in You

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How what about Eva Green? Well what can one say about her at this stage? Having perfected her twitchy, sexy, mysterious persona in Penny Dreadful, 300: Rise of an Empire, Casino Royale and even Burton’s own Dark Shadows, here she deploys a (slightly) more friendly version. Miss Peregrine may care deeply for her children, but there are constant hints at a much more wicked, mischievous and even dangerous side, just lurking beneath the surface. In short, she’s perfect.

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Classified for 13 years old and above, the film does features some nasty creatures and tense moments that are fine should be fine for adults and tweens but those thinking of bringing smaller children may want to stay away.

Hopefully Miss Peregrines School for Peculiar Children marks a new phase for Burton’s career. Creating fun adventure flicks that stray (somewhat) outside the quirkiness that has become expected of him. A welcome evolution of his style rather than a reinvention or complete abandonment.

Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Georgia Pemberton, Milo Parker, Raffiella Chapman, Pixie Davies, Joseph Odwell, Thomas Odwell, Cameron King, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O’Dowd, Terence Stamp.

Directed by: Tim Burton

Official Site here.