Style, for Tim Burton, isn’t a substitute for good storytelling, but an essential means of delivering it. And so with “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” — an engagingly oddball adaptation of Ransom Riggs’s 2011 best seller about youngsters with X-Men-like powers who come under attack by malevolent entities — the opportunities for the “Alice in Wonderland” filmmaker to flex his particular brand of movie-making muscle are manifold.
In a story involving time travel, scary monsters and a group of English orphans blessed (or cursed) with such fantastical gifts as one boy’s ability to control the bees that live in his stomach, Burton is in his element. If any of these strange children are stand-ins for the director himself, it is Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone), a dapper tyke who pops a special lens in front of his eyeball and proceeds to project his dreams onto the wall for the delectation of his friends.
In the case of “Miss Peregrine,” those dreams are more like nightmares.
Burton’s emphasis on visuals makes sense. Riggs’s book evolved from his idea to showcase vintage photographs that he had found in flea markets, featuring apparent levitation and other oddities. In “Miss Peregrine,” the levitating girl is Emma (Ella Purnell), who welcomes the American teenager Jake (Asa Butterfield) into a parallel universe when he visits the Welsh island where his grandfather (Terence Stamp) grew up, sent there by the dying man’s enigmatic instructions. Emma and Jake fall in love, naturally, as his own plot-critical peculiarities reveal themselves.
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Called a “loop,” that parallel universe exists in a “Groundhog Day”-like wrinkle in time in which a single day — Sept. 3, 1943 — plays out over and over, like a broken record.
The skip in the time-space continuum resets every 24 hours, just before a Nazi bomb falls on the children. It’s no miracle or accident. The titular Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who runs the orphanage for the preternaturally abled “Syndrigasti” (or, more colloquially, peculiars) is an Ymbryne, someone who can manipulate time. Loops, you see, are temporal hiding places from a group of disgruntled Syndrigasti led by the murderous Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson, chewing the scenery with frighteningly sharp prosthetic chompers). Barron and his minions harvest human eyeballs to eat.
The very idea of this — at once gruesome and darkly funny — is perfectly suited to Burton’s sensibility, which also reveals itself in the casting of Butterfield, who has the quality of a young, slightly less freaky Johnny Depp.
The relatable theme of the magical misfit may not be original. But as brought to life by Burton, Riggs’s fictional vision of a world in which the nonconformist can flourish serves as both a self-portrait of the auteur and a “Wonderland”-like looking glass in which many in the audience will no doubt see a reflection of themselves.
‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril. 2:06. 2D only: Frankfort. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.