Tim Burton directed “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” and while it’s a perfect fit for the whimsically macabre filmmaker, he doesn’t do much to make it his own. No, the bulk of the story’s Halloweenish delights come straight from the Ransom Riggs novel it’s based on — indeed, the film actually lightens some of its darker elements. This seems like a Tim Burton-for-hire work, where he found something that was already Burton-esque and let it do most of the heavy lifting.
Adapted by Jane Goldman (who’s written some “X-Men” films), it’s about Jake (Asa Butterfield), a Florida teen whose grandfather (Terence Stamp) used to tell stories of spectacular kids and fearsome monsters at the children’s home where he lived during World War II. After Grandpa’s death, Jake and his father (Chris O’Dowd, doing a bad American accent) travel to an island near Wales to see the place the old man spoke of. It was bombed during the war, yet still exists in a time-loop, where it’s forever Sept. 3, 1943.
The children who live here are, as indicated, peculiar. Emma (Ella Purnell) is lighter than air and uses heavy boots to keep her earthbound. Millard (Cameron King) is invisible. A few kids have super strength. One boy can shoot bees out of his mouth. (You never know when you’re going to need a lot of bees!) Their headmistress, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), is a strict, pipe-smoking, impish woman who can turn into a bird, and whose Willy Wonka-like dark sarcasm makes us wonder if she can be trusted.
The villain (and regrettably the only non-white person in the cast) is Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), leader of a group of rogue peculiars who are hunting the young ones to steal their powers, or whatever. Barron is aided by “hollowgasts,” spindly monsters invisible to everyone except Jake, whose peculiarity — yes, it turns out our hero is also a peculiar! — is being able to see them.
Eva Green, whose weird streak has made her a standout in bad movies like “300: Rise of an Empire” and Burton’s own “Dark Shadows,” warms to the part of Miss Peregrine like it was tailor-made for her, more than compensating for Asa Butterfield’s blandness. There are wry, colorful performances among the other children, and many grimly amusing details in the periphery.
And Burton? It turns out, when he gets out of his own way and stops being eccentric just for eccentricity’s sake, he’s still a crackerjack filmmaker. “Miss Peregrine” belongs to the Harry Potter mold, with a dash of junior “X-Men,” but doesn’t have the stale air of imitation that a lot of such properties do. (Looking at you, Percy Jackson.) Burton may be adapting a book that was goosebump-y and imaginative to begin with, but he does it with flair, bringing the ghouls, creatures, and skeleton armies to life with fantastical mirth.
B (2 hrs., 7 min.; )