Tim Burton has been synonymous with gradually diminishing returns since Sweeney Todd nearly a decade ago. Skyrocketing budgets and increasing creative freedom has sent the director’s output further and further into nonsensical indulgence. One held out hope that Big Eyes, his smallest budget since Ed Wood, would bring back some of the more paired-back magic of days before big-money Hollywood came knocking. But the mostly forgettable film was stripped bare by a screenplay that moved the focus from Margaret Keane at every opportunity, not helped by Christoph Waltz’s hammy turn.
Predictably, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is not the return-to-form that one has been hoping for since 2007. It still drowns in a style that has long become overindulgent since Burton began to be handed larger sums of money, and anything resembling logic is best left out of the equation. A protracted first half, set largely in the present day (something conveniently left out of the marketing, as its connection to the remainder is strained at best), is where interest is maybe lost. But once Burton fully immerses himself in the titular Miss Peregrine’s home and Groundhog Day-esque situation in 1943 England (it helps that they’re all in eye-popping Colleen Atwood attire), the film becomes more engaging. Despite being billed as a children’s film (be prepared for plenty of complaints at cinemas), it’ll come as little surprise that it’s much darker and violent than that. It’s still far from perfect, and Asa Butterfield’s Jake is never the attention-grabbing protagonist he should be. But the escalating, pink-tinged nightmarish madness nonetheless offers some of the same over-the-top and head-scratching Burton aced in his earlier films. Escapes, explorations to the sea floor, fight scenes between monsters and regenerated skeletons make for laughs; and Samuel L. Jackson, always undoubtedly having the time of his life, is entertaining enough. A return, it is not. But one can still hope that the Burton from the likes of Edward Scissorhands will come back some day.