When held in check, Tim Burton (Big Eyes) is a wonderful and magical storyteller; Peregrine’s was tailor-made for his sensibility. The story is at once magical, dark, and innocent, and he can play at the boundary of all of these keeping them in balance. More importantly, he stays out of the way. While you may guess this is a Burton film from a few moments, it is otherwise dominated by the characters and tale unfolding.
Like many stories these days, the cast has two distinct cast sets: adults and children, with children driving the action. Leading that charge on screen is Asa Butterfield (A Brilliant Young Mind) who continues to broaden his appeal and show his abilities (and grow bloody tall). He is able to carry a film without shoving aside his cast mates. Among the rest of the younger cast, who are all rather good, there were two stand-outs. Ella Purnell (Maleficent), as Butterfield’s love interest, embodies her role and ability nicely. The second was the nearly wordless Pixie Davis (Humans), who projects the strong silent type and a sense of power that her character must, and does it without making it seem silly, just always surprising.
The adults are quite the mix. Eva Green (Perfect Sense), in the titular role, brings the head mistress to life. This is where Burton’s influence is most keenly felt. Green is sharp, quick, focused, much like her namesake bird, and feels just alien enough to be right for the story. You can’t help but see some of Helena Bonham Carter’s performances buried in there given the connection to Burton. In addition, Allison Janney (The DUFF), Rupert Everett (St. Trinian’s: Legend of Fritton’s Gold), Judy Dench (The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), and Samuel Jackson (Chi-Raq) chomp into their roles. Each brings a slightly different sensibility, all in service to the original material.
Only Chris O’Dowd (Friends with Kids) left me a bit unimpressed, and I usually really like him. But his accent was awful. They even reference something like that in the script, though not at him. And he never really captured the sense of Butterfield’s father. He came across more as an older brother or young uncle to me. It is an important relationship that was left somewhat vacant. On the other hand, Terrance Stamp (Unfinished Song) made a great grandfather-with-a-secret, bringing all his talents to his small but important role.
One of the things so interesting about this film is the changes that writer Jane Goldman brought to the story. Unlike many attempts at book-to-movie adaptation, her alterations actually improved on the original books by Rigg’s. The sense of adventure and humor that she has already brought to other adaptations like Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kick-Ass, and X-Men: First Class as well as the gravitas to stories like The Debt all show up. It isn’t a perfect script, but though the original material was fun, it was thin in depth. Goldman made it all more interesting and believable.
And, perhaps most importantly, this film didn’t leave us all hanging at the end. This movie completes itself while leaving open a door for more movies if they want them. Mind you, there are gaffs in the logic. Also, if you read the books recently, you may find yourself with a bit of a headache keeping your knowledge and the changes straight regardless of how they improved the plot. But the result is fun and well put together, and a good film version of the well-loved stories.