Eccentrics and oddballs have always been grist to the creative mill of writer-director Tim Burton.
In Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, adapted from the debut novel by Ransom Riggs, the quixotic filmmaker is in his element, surrounded by a madcap menagerie of misfits.
A cherubic girl whose tumbling blonde curls conceal a mouth with razor-sharp teeth on the back of her head; a blue-eyed boy who has a hive of bees living inside of him; a pint-sized poppet who possesses strength beyond her years.
There’s plenty of weirdness, but not quite enough wonder to complement Burton’s directorial flourishes and the glorious costume and set design that allows the time-travelling narrative to ricochet between 1943 and the present day.
The emotional crux of the picture is British actor Asa Butterfield, who was mesmerizing as Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.
He portrays another lonely outcast here, and exudes an endearing awkwardness and vulnerability in the role.
Eva Green slinks with wide-eyed intent as the titular headmistress and there are strong supporting turns from a young cast, who embrace their characters’ peculiarities with gusto.
Jacob Portman (Butterfield) has always been close to his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp).
When the old man perishes in mysterious circumstances, the grief-stricken teenager turns to psychiatrist Dr Golan (Allison Janney) to come to terms with his loss.
She approves a visit to Cairnholm island off the coast of Wales - population 93 - where Abe claimed he spent his formative years in a home for gifted children.
Accompanied by his birdwatcher father Franklin (Chris O’Dowd), Jacob makes the long journey and visits the derelict home alone, searching for some tenuous connection to his grandfather.
Amongst the rubble, Jacob encounters a girl called Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), who wears lead shoes to stop her floating away.
She helps him to enter a magical time loop set to September 3, 1943, which is controlled by Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Green), headmistress of the school.
Other students include pyrokinetic teenager Olive (Lauren McCrostie), prophetic dreamer Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone), invisible boy Millard (Cameron King) and the masked twins (Thomas Odwell, Joseph Odwell).
Miss Peregrine and her charges are being hunted by gnarly, undead creatures called Hollows, led by the menacing Mr Barron (Samuel L Jackson).
Jacob promises Emma that he will return to the home the following day to help the outcasts evade a grim fate.
‘There’s no hurry,’ she replies sadly. ‘I’m here forever.’
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is an entertaining and briskly paced adventure with some lip-smacking macabre touches.
Style doesn’t trump substance, but it’s a close run during some key sequences.
Thankfully, Jane Goldman’s script always finds its way back to the heartrending growing pains of the children, and that’s an oddness all of us can appreciate.