Let’s get something out of the way right now, I am a stickler for accuracy when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. I’m sorry, that’s just how I am.
I will warn you right now that there are spoilers ahead for the film adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which was released last September and was directed by Tim Burton.
The beginning of the film remains more-or-less true to the book, in which we meet Jacob working at one of the chain of convenience stores owned by his family. When he gets a frantic call from his grandfather, Jacob drives to his house to check on him, only to find he has been murdered by what seems to be a strange, wild creature. After repeating what he saw to the authorities and his own parents, Jacob is sent to a psychiatrist to be examined before leaving on a trip to Whales with his father, to see the orphanage where his grandfather spent years as a child. This was also the source of his grandfather’s many stories about children with peculiar abilities and a world full of adventure and wonder.
Up until Jacob stumbles upon the time loop hiding the peculiar children in 1940, the film remains true to the book in both plot, character and tone, which is something I greatly appreciate. This story has an overwhelming amount of darkness and foreboding that they managed to maintain.
However, this is where the inaccuracies begin.
Here is where the film diverts from its book counterpart, in that the characters themselves are changed for no good reason. In the book, Miss Peregrine is older and walks with a limp. She is much more prim and proper and stricter with the children although her tender love for them is obvious in her wise advice. In the movie, Eva Green portrays the caretaker as a quick, capable and humorous mother, so that when she is overtaken by wights, her sudden weakness does not seem to blend. This is not to say that the Miss Peregrine of the novels was weak, but she did have her setbacks. While I enjoyed Green’s portrayal, it did put a kink in the practical development of the plot.
I do not understand at all why the characters’ abilities were switched. Emma’s and Olive’s powers were changed around so much and I do not see any reason why that should have happened. And I do not understand why Ransom Riggs would be okay with such changes when they are so pertinent to the original integrity and progression of the story. Despite these technical differences, I thought the actors and actresses portraying the peculiar children were wonderful, especially Milo Parker as Hugh, Hayden Keeler-Stone as Horace and Cameron King as Millard.
I was not especially crazy about Asa Butterfield as Jacob. I think they could have picked someone a bit more mature for this role. And, while I respect Samuel L. Jackson as an actor, this was very far from even his remotely good acting. He was nowhere near as menacing or threatening as he should have been — I found the moment when he was threatening Miss Peregrine and her children laughable, which compromised the entire tone of the story.
When I saw this film, I had only read the first book in the series, so I didn’t have that much to go on when the children continued their journey on a risen warship to London. And if I had known exactly how many liberties Burton and writer Jane Goldman took with the story toward the end, I would have been much more upset than I was in the moment.
The bottom line is that the director and the writer decided to throw out the beautifully nuanced world and theme that Riggs created, and replace it with childish animation and an easy victory where no one gets hurt and everyone lives happily ever after.
Even in imagined worlds, this is not realistic.
Despite its fantasy classification, Riggs original story is much more realistic and enjoyable than this adaptation, which makes light of every real emotion that could be felt by these characters. It reduces them to the children they seem to be rather than acknowledging their complicated, often tragic pasts that have built their maturity and allowed them to overcome the atrocities of history and lost humanity.
I wanted to like this movie so badly.
I do love Tim Burton, but this film was an absolute insult to a wonderful writer, his imagination, and his ability to turn tragedy and lost humanity into some semblance of hope.
What did you think of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? How do you view the changes made to the characters and the story? Should film adaptations remain true to their books, or is there room for tweaking? Let’s talk.