Novelist Ransom Riggs and Tim Burton should have been an ideal match, but Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016) is yet another verification that this director is at the end of his tether.
Burton can’t take the sole blame. He shares that honor with screenwriter Jane Goldman, who previously scripted two of the better X-Men sagas. This is part of the problem: they treat the material as if it’s the initial entry in a new and potentially profitable X-Men-styled franchise. For a director who has long made claims to specializing in films for the peculiar, Burton shows no genuine enthusiasm for his newest project and, with Goldman, sucks all the peculiarity out of its source material. This has been Tim Burton’s modus operandi for a long time, apparent to almost everyone (the director’s zealous, in-denial cult excepted). Burton likewise neutered all the surrealism of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Disneyfied Barnabas Collins, Sweeney Todd, and Willy Wonka. Even Disney itself, teamed with Bing Crosby, was more adept at interpreting Washington Irvin’s Ichabod Crane. There’s a problem when two paragons of artistic conservatism have a better feel for the kooky-souled than a self-proclaimed specialist.
Burton came closest to a return to form with The Corpse Bride (2005), which he co-directed with Mike Johnson, along with Big Eyes (2014), the story of Margaret Keane. Despite being a personal project, the latter film eventually faltered in focusing on a kitsch suburban artist who simply wasn’t as interesting as the working relationship between the world’s worst director and one of the world’s worst ham actors of all time in Ed Wood. Still, this is the director who took a pre-existing pulp character (Batman) and managed to produce two comic book-inspired masterpieces stamped with highly personalized weirdness. He probably would have done the same for Superman, or at least that appears to be the case from the fascinating documentary Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (2015).