“The film says be yourself and embrace your uniqueness, as well as the original and peculiar in everyone.”
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is rich with fantastical and immersive imagery, memorable characters, epic battles, and unique time travel manipulations—all brought to life by visionary storymaker Tim Burton, in the grand style of his films Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Most significantly, it is about embracing the original and peculiar in us all.
Stay Peculiar. It is this theme of not only accepting our differences but taking pride in them that resonated most with the filmmakers. It’s a two-word mission statement that it’s cool—and even necessary—to be different.
What makes the young Peculiars different is also what makes them able, strong and special. Miss Peregrine’s Home provides a safe haven from the outside world, which cannot comprehend or deal with the Peculiars’ special abilities. It’s also a refuge from their powerful enemies.
Each child has a unique peculiarity, including levitation, fire-manipulation and super-strength. The Peculiars’ capabilities are not limitless, and these young people are bound by most of the things we non-Peculiars are. “They just discover some creative uses for their abilities in certain situations,” says executive producer Derek Frey.
“These children would be seen as freaks and would be persecuted in the outside world,” notes Eva Green, who portrays Miss Peregrine. “In the remote island where they live and thrive, their ‘strangeness’ is celebrated as something special and beautiful.”
Eva Green, who had last collaborated with Burton on Dark Shadows, portrays Miss Peregrine, whom the actress calls her “a kind of dark Mary Poppins-like figure who is rather eccentric and fearless, and who wields a deadly crossbow to protect her Peculiars. “Her children are her life, and Miss Peregrine will do anything for them. She’s a ballsy character and a warrior.”
Burton, who sometimes referred to the character as “Scary Poppins,” is a fan of Miss Peregrine—and of the actress depicting her. “We all could have only wished to have a headmistress at school like Eva or Miss Peregrine—someone who’s very strong, funny, mysterious and protective.”
Tim Burton clearly identifies with that idea. “As a child you never really forget those feelings of being different. They stay with you forever,” he explains.
“I was branded as being ‘peculiar’ because as a child I loved monster movies. So you go through things like that in your childhood and sometimes even later in life. There are a lot of people out there who feel that way.’’
In today’s social media-obsessed world, “staying peculiar” is particularly challenging. Says Ella Purnell, who portrays Emma, a young woman who can control air: “We’re all surrounded by Twitter and Instagram and other kinds of social media, which make it so easy to compare yourself with others, and to think you’re not good enough or that you don’t belong. But what we should be celebrating is what makes you, you.”
The film’s social media outreach embraced this idea. Since the launch of the campaign, a movement around the hashtag #StayPeculiar continues to gain momentum. The hashtag surfaced in one-third of the conversation surrounding the film, which is 625 percent more than typically seen for a single hashtag during a film’s campaign.
The “Stay Peculiar” theme extends to family, which the film’s young protagonist Jake (Asa Butterfield) discovers with the Peculiars at Miss Peregrine’s Home. “Family comes in all shapes and sizes—and peculiarities,” says Jenno Topping, who produced the film alongside Peter Chernin. “Jake comes to learn that his true family is the Peculiars, with whom he feels an enormous affinity.”
From Best-Selling Book To Big-Screen Event
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is based upon the debut novel by Ransom Riggs, published in 2011. It was an instant global hit and topped The New York Times best-seller list, where it remained for years. The book has sold more than 3.1 million copies.
A sequel, Hollow City, was published in 2014, followed by the final book in the trilogy, Library of Souls.
Riggs’s journey to Miss Peregrine’s special Home began with his hobby of collecting vintage photographs at swap meets and flea markets—the more unusual the photo, the better. He also used to write freelance for Quirk Books (publisher of Pride, Prejudice and Zombies). One day he sent some of his photos to the Quirk team, thinking the images could make a haunting picture book. Instead, Quirk came up with the idea of using the photos to create a narrative for a novel.
“I’ve always had a fascination with old photos,” says Riggs. “I had an idea for a story and the photographs became a kind of touchstone for the characters. For example, I’d have a really interesting photo of a boy covered in bees. So, I wondered, who is that boy? What’s his story?”
The rights to Riggs’s best-selling novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children were snapped up by the Twentieth Century Fox-based production company Chernin Entertainment, whose president is the film’s producer Jenno Topping. “It’s such a beautiful book that spoke to us on so many levels; it’s spooky, haunting and is a wonderful coming-of-age story,” she notes.
Their dream choice to helm the film was, to Topping, also an obvious one. “The second we saw the manuscript we knew Tim Burton would the perfect director. It’s as if it were written for him,” she explains.
The teams at Chernin and Fox were right on target with their choice for director. “I really connected with the book,” says Burton. “I like the fact that Ransom made a story out of finding these photographs. The material was very compelling—dreamlike, powerful and mysterious.”
Riggs, a filmmaker in his own right and a longtime Burton admirer, is effusive in his praise of the director tasked with bringing his novel to life on the big screen. “It’s not hard to let go of my book when Tim Burton is the surgeon performing the operation,” he states.
Burton and the producers turned to noted screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class, Woman in Black) to adapt Riggs’s novel for the screen. Again, it was the perfect marriage of artist and material. “Jane’s sensibilities are close to Tim’s,” says Topping. “They respond to the same types of projects and occupy the same kind of creative world.”
Collaborating with Burton was, says Goldman, “incredibly exciting. The photos are a key part of the book, so it’s not a huge leap to see the story in a cinematic sense. And it was a joy and privilege to work with Tim. I love his ideas, and whatever he’s doing feels like you’re in the most creative environment.”
Goldman’s mandate, says executive producer Derek Frey, was to stay true to the spirit of the novel, while offering audiences a big movie-going experience. “There was a real effort to keep what’s special in the book for the movie,” Frey explains. “There’s a certain personal nature to the project, and the connection between the characters of Jake and his grandfather Abe [Terence Stamp] is the heart of the story, and it was important to keep that intact. But at the same time, you want to deliver certain things to film audiences.”
“The book and the movie are not the same, and it took me a little while to make friends with that idea,” Riggs admits. “But when I visited the location, met Tim, and saw the sets he created and the people he had cast, the scenes really came to life for me. I started to get it. In fact, I watched scenes being filmed, written by Jane Goldman and directed by Tim, and said to myself, ‘I wish I had thought of that!’”
“I visited the set because…who wouldn’t?” the author continues. “I love movies and moviemaking, and to see Tim making the film of my book on this grand scale was something I had to experience.”
As Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children neared release, the filmmakers took time to reflect on their hopes for the film, as well as its themes. “This will be a feast and a very emotional experience,” says Topping. “The film says be yourself and embrace your uniqueness, as well as the original and peculiar in everyone.”
“Fans are going to get a no-holds-barred ‘Miss Peregrine’ experience,” adds Derek Frey. “It’s a full rendering of that story.”
Perhaps no one is more pleased with that rendering than its original architect. “As someone who grew up loving Tim’s movies, it was so exciting to me that he was interested in my book,” says Riggs. “I said to myself, ‘Okay, well, this is genius. Tim is perfect for the material, and he’s going to make it all his own. I love where he went with the film.”