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Burton’s ‘Peculiar’ Tells a Good but Different Tale


I once made a strong and very convincing argument that it is always best to read the book before the movie based upon it. I went on and on about how books and movies are two unique interpretations of the same story, just told through a different lens, but that the former allows viewers of the film an additional depth that nonreaders would never know. I may have belabored the point, something that I am prone to do when I know I am right, which, let’s face it, is pretty often. Seriously, I was on a roll.

And I was wrong. That isn’t to say that I don’t stand by my convictions—I do believe that reading the book first is a great idea, especially for kids—but perhaps there are exceptions to the rule. It was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that changed my mind. To be clear, the book (and all subsequent books in the series) by Ransom Riggs is very good. We have read it together as a family (also, said subsequent books), and we have enjoyed it immensely. I would recommend it to anyone (and I do).

Tim Burton’s version of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is also very entertaining. It is dark and funny, intense and sweet, all of the things one associates with a Burton film, and, like the book, my family thought it was fantastic. But they aren’t the same story.

Honestly, I don’t know that I have ever seen a book and its movie adaptation be so different from one another. The film has new characters, changes existing characters in huge ways, and the storyline takes a hard turn halfway through the film, slips straight off the page and chooses its own adventure, one that readers of the book will struggle way too hard, and to no avail, to recognize.

Obviously, this is done with intent. Riggs and Burton are smart, clever and far better at creating stories than I am at critiquing them. Perhaps they wanted to change course and create a new story that surprised the entire audience, and not just those who are averse to reading. Maybe Riggs felt that there were other stories he had wanted to tell, and that once the book found its voice, the ship had all but sailed, whereas the film provided an opportunity to explore those other possibilities. It could be anything, really, and I’m not going to pretend that I am privy to any of it. However, I felt that you, the potential audience and possible book reader, should know that the movie version of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not the book version of the same, and therefore you may not avoid one peculiar experience for the other. Maybe that’s why they did it.

The Bottom Line:

Positive themes: The film is about the bonds of friendship, teamwork, and taking a stand for what is good and right. In addition, it drives the message of embracing our own individuality, that what separates us from the crowd—the unique quirks of self—is something to be cherished, not hidden.
Violence/scare factors: Yes. The good guys are fighting the bad guys, and the bad guys are, literally, flesh-eating monsters bent on destruction. It can be pretty intense. That said, the theater was full of kids that were obviously loving it, so perhaps a bit of pre-viewing conversation and some Googling of images/video would help ease the fear factor.
Sex/romance: There is a romantic connection between the two teen leads. Physically it doesn’t go any further than kissing. Emotionally, it is true love and you wouldn’t understand their feelings.
Bad language: There is some cursing, but far milder than you would find on basic cable
Drinking/drugs/smoking: Do eyeballs count as a drug? If so, then yes. The drinking and smoking in the film is done by adults and not glamorized.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is rated PG-13 and opens September 30.

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