“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.”
Based on Ransom Riggs‘s debut book and directed by Tim Burton, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children follows teenager Jacob (Asa Butterfield), who sets off to a mysterious Welsh island, using clues from his grandpa’s old photographs, to find out who his grandpa really was after his unexplained death. Led to a large, abandoned orphanage, run by the mystical Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), Jacob begins an adventure that spans different worlds and times. But the mystery and danger deepen as he gets to know the residents and about their special powers, as well as the powers of their enemies. Chosen to protect the Peculiar Children, Jacob must discover his own power to save his new friends from the nightmarish Hollows and Wights, who are led by the mysterious Mr Barron (Samuel L Jackson).
The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.
Young adult book adaptations come and go. Some remain classic franchises, some fizzle out with each instalment, whilst others miss the mark from the word ‘go’. So it’s exciting to have another franchise in the works and, fortunately, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is one to remain excited about.
With a brilliant young cast and a stunning Eva Green leading their way, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a stylish and contemporary adaptation, filled with excellent cinematography and imaginative concepts.
For a young adult fantasy, Tim Burton does a pretty decent job with Ransom Riggs‘ exceptional book. With the addition of his quirky visuals, a dark subplot filled with evil villains and gruesome monsters, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is creepy enough to keep audiences intrigued.
However, as an adaptation, Burton has focused on entertainment over plot development. The aspects of time travel don’t completely work with his addition of alternative loops and portals, which does come across as quite muddled, but whilst much of the first half of the story remains faithful to the book, the end is so different that it’s almost unrecognisable.
Burton seems to have gone off on his own tangent to lighten the psychological weight of the book, making it more ‘fun’ by including more villains and loops and getting all of the characters involved in a funfair snowball fight. Whilst this works for watchers who haven’t read the book, allowing the story to make sense in its context and speeding up the pace of the book, adding in some amazing visuals and showing off the story’s potential, it changes a lot for readers who know what’s to come in the rest of the series.
It seems as though Burton only intends to make the one film, so he has developed the characters beyond the little we know of them at this point in the book. It could create some issues further down the line, so I’ll go into these changes more in-depth below.
Differences From The Book:
As I started to go into above, there are many changes from the book to the film, mostly in the second half of the film, so bare with me on this long list.
Here are all of the changes in chronological order:
- In the book, Jacob is purposely bad at his job because he knows that he cannot get fired. In the film, he just appears miserable.
- In the film, it is Jacob’s friend Ricky who drives him to his Grandpa’s house. In the film, it is his boss, Shelly, but he doesn’t get on with any of his co-workers in the book. The film completely misses out Jacob’s only friend, who is present quite often in these first few scenes of the book.
- In the book, Jacob and Ricky drive past Grandpa Portman’s neighbour and comment that “his eyes were a perfect milky white”. Jacob wonders why Grandpa never told him that one of his neighbours is blind, who we later realise was a Wight. The film doesn’t explain this and, instead, we only see Shelly nearly run over a random figure.
- In the book, the only description of the monster that is focused on is the tentacles coming out of its mouth. The monster in the film looks a lot scarier thanks to Burton’s visuals, although the tentacles are an important part as they give Jacob nightmares in the book.
- Grandpa Portman’s final words are different in the film. In the book, Jacob spends ages trying to decipher them. In the film, it is pretty obvious what he meant, and Jacob finds the home and Miss Peregrine quite easily. This change is understandable.
- After Grandpa’s death, in the book, Jacob is haunted by nightmares and stops leaving the house, falling into a kind of depression. His struggle with what is happening isn’t as obvious or as strong in the film.
- In the book, Dr Golan is a male character. This matters at the end of the story when we realise who she/he really is.
- In the book, Jacob tells the audience about his grandpa in the prologue. In the film, Jacob tells Dr Golan. It’s a good narrative technique, but Dr Golan shouldn’t know as much as about Grandpa Portman and the home as she does in the film. In the book, Jacob only tells Dr Golan about Grandpa’s last words, and is encouraged to research Emerson and to return to the scene of the crime (since his last words weren’t as obvious in the book).
- After his session with Golan, in the book, Jacob overhears his mum on the phone saying she’s looking forward to some to herself with Jacob and his father going away. The bad relationship with his mother and father isn’t emphasised in the film.
- In the book, the ferry captain tells Jacob that they’re sailing over a nautical graveyard, the resting place of many ships sunk by U-boats. This isn’t explained in the film, either.
- In the book, Jacob meets a man named Martin who is the curator of the museum. Martin tells him about the history of the orphanage. In the film, Jacob doesn’t visit the museum, Martin’s character is missed out, and we only meet a wheelchaired man named Oggie, who is supposed to be Martin’s Uncle.
- In the book, there is a display case holding the blackened corpse of a 2700-year-old body found in the bog. They suspect he sacrificed himself to the gods, because they believed the bog was an entrance to heaven, and the way to get in was to sacrifice themselves. We later realise that the body was that of a Hollow, but this isn’t included in the film.
- In the film, Oggie is the only character we see wearing sunglasses. In the book, the Wights always wear sunglasses to hide their white eyes, so this is a little confusing since Oggie is human.
- There is no statue called the Waiting Woman in the film or any background given on the Priest Hole. The film doesn’t explain that the town shuts down at 10pm, either, since power is expensive and the generators go off at that time.
- In the book, Jacob awakes to find the peregrine in his room. This is what convinces Jacob to returns to the house after his first visit.
- In the book, Jacob explores more of the house and finds a trunk in one of the rooms upstairs. To open it, he throws in down the stairs. It smashes through the floorboards and into the basement. Jacob goes into the basement and finds jars of organs (which we later find out are Enoch’s). Photos of the children, like his Grandpa’s, have spilt from the trunk all over the floor. The peculiars then appear on the floor above, Emma shines her light through the hole in the floor, and Jacob chases after them through the loop. This scene in the book was intensely creepy, but it is rushed in the film. In the book, Emma takes Jacob prisoner because she thinks that Jacob is a Wight, and it takes a while for her to trust him and even ties his hands up. In the film, more of the children wait for Jacob, as the have been asked to bring him back by Miss Peregrine. Emma warms to him more quickly.
- In both the book and the film, Jacob heads back to the pub after entering the loop, but the film doesn’t emphasise the changes in the weather and the town as much as the book does.
- Only Emma and Millard save Jacob from the pub in the book. It is Emma who sets fire to the bar, not Olive, since this is her power in the book, and they lead Jacob out of a secret passage, with Emma leading the way with her flames.
- In the book, Jacob has to watch the special way that Emma steps on the rocks when entering the loop. This is not mentioned in the film.
- Many of the characters appear very differently: In the book, Fiona is mute and appears much scruffier; Bronwyn is a little older and a lot less feminine; Hugh is a teenager; Olive (the character on the front cover of the book) is younger; Enoch is younger and often wears goggles; and there is a picture of Mr Barron as an old, white man.
- In the book, Fiona can make plants grow fast, but she doesn’t make giant vegetables as she does in the film.
- The peculiarities of Emma and Olive are also switched. In the book, Emma manipulates fire, whilst Olive floats. Burton expands on this by making Emma’s manipulation of air more important, using it in many other ways, raising sunken shipwrecks from the sea. Other than for that moment alone, the change wasn’t overly necessary as it could have been Olive that did this at the end. Emma also has a fiery personality to match her peculiarity, so the alteration is an odd one.
- In the film, the police show up to the house and it is said that Miss Peregrine often has to kill people who question their presence. This doesn’t happen in the book, although the children do play a game called “Raid the Village”, where the kids run in and destroy the village (since the village resets the next day, and no one remembers).
- In the film, Emma and Miss Peregrine both know that Grandpa Portman is dead before Jacob arrives. In the book, Miss Peregrine suspects that he is, but tells Jacob not to tell anyone. Emma overhears and runs away crying. She’s not as upset in the film.
- In the book, Miss Peregrine explains that someone must cross the doorway to the loop often to keep it open, or the whole thing becomes unstable. In the film, the loop is kept intact with Miss Peregrine’s pocket watch.
- In the film, Miss Peregrine is obsessed with people being on time. Although she has the power to manipulate time in the book, she doesn’t remind people of the time, and she doesn’t need a pocket watch.
- In the book, at the dinner table, the children tell Jacob how old they are. They range from seventy-five and a half to one hundred and eighteen years old. This would have been interesting to have been included in the film, which instead makes the children behave more immaturely.
- In the film, Miss Peregrine receives a phone call from Grandpa Portman, which Jacob later answers. This is not in the book, and I found it quite awkward rather than sentimental.
- In the book, Jacob ducks and covers when the bombs are about to hit. Time instantly freezes, then a flash of light and it’s the night before again. In the film, time stops slowly and is rewound, so he’s not as scared. This does make for some great visuals, though.
- In the book, all of the peculiars put on a show for Jacob to show off their powers. Miss Peregrine comes out as a bird and turns into a human; Olive floats above everyone else; Bronwyn lifts a rock the size of a fridge; Fiona makes plants grow; and Hugh spits out bees to pollinate Fiona’s flowers. This could have been brilliant to see, too, but we do see their powers in other ways in the film.
- In the book, the children go swimming in the town. In the film, they do not leave the home. It’s made out to look like the children can only get to the home by the cairn in the film, so they do not leave the home to remain in their loop. In the book, they leave the home many times, as there are ways to get around the cairn so they can leave without resetting time.
- In the book, Emma gives Jacob an apple, not a flower, although both show how fast objects will age outside of their loop.
- Emma and Jacob’s relationship is radically changed. In the book, Emma very much pines over Grandpa Portman still and her relationship with Jacob develops slowly. In the film, everybody comments on their blossoming relationship and it comes across as quite forced. Her feelings for Grandpa Portman are somewhat diminished, too.
- Olive and Enoch do not form a relationship as they do in the film, either. Enoch is much more standoffish, warning Jacob off Emma, as well. He is not like this in the book and even asks Jacob if he will come live with them.
- Enoch’s creations are also a lot less creepy in the book, but this is classic Burton. In the book, they’re little clay soldiers, and he powers them with real hearts from mice and other animals.
- In the book, Jacob hides in Emma’s room and finds her letters from Grandpa Portman. Emma explains their relationship, which Jacob finds weird. This is again not explored in the film.
- In the book, Jacob tells his dad about his friends often but lies that they are imaginary when he cannot use them as an excuse for not killing the sheep. In the film, Jacob doesn’t tell his dad anything about them and, instead, lies that he was on his own.
- In the book, Emma’s special place is inside one of the shipwrecked boats, but they use tubes and snorkels to breathe. With Emma and Olive’s power changing, Emma can do much more to manipulate air in the film, whilst Olive’s power in the book is to only float, not to create air bubbles and raise sunken ships from the seabed.
- In the book, Emma asks Jacob to stay. He says no: “It’s him you want, not me. I can’t be him for you”. Again, this conflict is not included in the film which is a huge shame.
- When explaining about the Hollows and Wights in the book, it is said that two of the masterminds behind the plan were Miss Peregrine’s brothers. In the book, the Hollows don’t only eat the eyes of children, either; they eat peculiars for their “second soul”, but none of this is explained.
- In the book, Horace only has prophetic nightmares; he cannot project them. We do see some of the future in his dream, but the one about “seas boiling and ash raining from the sky and an endless blanket of smoke smothering the earth” is not told. Instead, he sees Emma and Jacob kissing, as if that were a more important plot twist.
- At this point in the book, Jacob starts wondering whether he should stay or go, but he doesn’t do this until the end of the film.
- In the book, Jacob’s Dad tells Jacob that a new ornithologist has shown up. On cue, the man stomps into the tavern and orders a couple steaks, rare. Jacob warns his Dad that the ornithologist might be the sheep killer, but his Dad thinks he’s talking nonsense. Jacob asks if he noticed anything weird about the bird watcher’s face, and his Dad says that he was wearing his sunglasses at night. We aren’t given many hints to the birdwatcher being a Wight in the film.
- In the book, Martin goes missing and is fished out of the ocean. In the film, it is Oggie who is found dead.
- In the film, Miss Peregrine has a bow and arrow and shoots the Hollow every day. She does not in the book.
- In the book, Emma, Bronwyn and Enoch help Jacob find out more about the Wight, and Olive helps them jump out of a high window and escape. Enoch then brings Martin back to life to ask him who killed him. He tells them that it was the Swamp man. Mr Barron then turns up. This doesn’t happen in the film.
- In the book, Mr Barron explains that he has been in numerous disguises following Jacob: as the birdwatcher, Dr Golan (since he was a male character in the book) and as his school bus driver. In the film, the Wights are able to retain their peculiarities, so Barron is able to shape-shift into anybody he wants.
- In the book, the Hollows are visible to anyone when it’s eating.
- In the book, Golan introduces Malthus, the tentacle-mouthed Hollow who also ate Grandpa Portman. Golan then leaves Malthus to be alone with his meal. In the film, the Hollow is not named or given as much of a relationship with Barron.
- In the film, all of the children face the Hollow in the home but, in the book, it is Emma, Bronwyn, and Enoch who help Jacob kill it in the town.
- In the book, Barron sneaks off to the home and kidnaps Miss Peregrine and Miss Avocet before the children arrive back. In the film, Barron takes Jacob hostage and they see Miss Peregrine being taken away.
- In the film, Miss Avocet is then killed by the Hollow, but she is taken with Miss Peregrine in a cage in the book and is taken away by the Wights at the end.
- In the book, Jacob tries to say goodbye to his dad at this point, after making up his mind that he wants to stay in the time loop with the children. The children show themselves to him to make him believe that Jacob does have real friends on the island – Olive floats in, Millard invisibly floats in, and Emma shows up with a ball of flames in her hand – but he thinks he’s dreaming. Emma then leaves the picture of her and Jacob on his phone on his bedside table, along with a letter from Jacob. In the film, Jacob couldn’t care less about leaving his father behind.
This is where things go very different.
- In the book, the following scenes happen in the harbour, near a lighthouse. Millard, Bronwyn, Emma, and Jacob go after him once again, leaving the rest of the children on the cliffs. They swim for the shipwreck, but Millard gets shot so they make a run for it. Golan explains why he’s kidnapping ymbrynes, flings the birdcage into the sea, and is then killed by Jacob. In the film, Emma raises a shipwrecked ship from the sea, and they follow Barron to Blackpool, where they enter an alternative 2016 time loop at a carnival, and a big fight ensues.
- In the book, Jacob and a few others only face Barron and a single Hollow. In the film, all of the children have a big battle with three Wights and many Hollows.
- Since the Wights maintain their peculiarities in the film, two Wights show off their animal-like physique and freezing power, but they are not included in the book.
- Since Barron can shapeshift, too, he also shapeshifts into Jacob to confuse the other children, but he cannot do this in the book.
- In the book, Barron only captures Miss Peregrine and Miss Avocet, not a cage full of birds.
- In the film, we get to see the twins take off their masks, and see their ability to turn people to stone. This is not in the book either.
- In the book, Jacob has already made up his mind to stay with the children in their time loop. In the film, he decides to stay in 2016, but quickly changes his mind and spends a lot of time trying to find the children. I’m not really sure how this works because time loops are literally that – loops in time. In the film, Jacob uses them to travel across the world. Unless this is something explained in the following books, this appears to make no sense.
- In the book, there were no witnesses to the fight between the children and Barron, either, whereas the film has a whole crowd watching them and forensic investigators at the scene of the crime. Wouldn’t this have some kind of effect on the future, though? Burton’s changes seem muddled at this point.
- Because of the additional time loops, Grandpa Portman is also alive at the end of the film, but this doesn’t happen in the book, either, since there is no alternative 2016. This would have been a good change if it was worthwhile, but it felt underused and therefore pointless. With Grandpa Portman still being alive, Jacob’s decision to stay in 1943 should have been made more difficult, but after the briefest of conversations with Grandpa Portman, Jacob is ready to say leave already.
- At the end of the fight scene, Miss Peregrine cannot transform back into her human form because she is injured, which leads into the second book. In the film, Miss Peregrine does change back, however, which may force some changes if the second book is adapted.
- In the book, because the loop didn’t loop, the children’s home is bombed. Since the children leave the island in the film, we do not get to see this. They then bury Victor outside, but he is forgotten about in the film.
- The book then ends with Horace drawing a picture of where Miss Avocet (who is apparently dead in the film) has been taken. The children then load up in rowboats (not a massive ship) with intent to search the loops to find her. The film sees the children sail off, but we do not know where they are going or why.
It seems as if Burton has made Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children as a standalone film, and that he doesn’t intend to carry on with the rest of Riggs’ Peculiar series.
With that in mind, there are a lot of changes in this first book adaptation to make the story more concise, with many of the characters being developed beyond this first instalment, so fans of the books may be left a little underwhelmed with its second half. Instead of focusing on the psychological aspects of the book, Burton has focused on ‘fun’, which makes the film adaptation a lot more entertaining, but also a little muddled at times.
The book has a much slower pace, slowly revealing everything that Jacob wants to uncover and it’s not until the end of the book that things get really exciting. Obviously, if Burton did the same with his film adaptation then we would be left feeling impatiently bored, so some of the changes make sense. However, if you loved Riggs’ book then this adaptation does have a very different feel to it.
That being said, Burton does bring the children and their home to life with phenomenal visuals, and if this is going to be a standalone film, then he makes the story work well enough.
We may not be excited to carry on the adventures of these children as we are in the books, but at least audiences will feel fulfilled.