Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) is a drama/fantasy film directed by Tim Burton and is rated PG-13. The movie begins with the protagonist Jacob Portman, played by Asa Butterfield, receiving a weird phone call from his grandfather Abe. This phone call raises concerns Jacob, which sends him to check on his grandfather. When Jacob finds Abe he is severely injured and missing his eyeballs. With one last riddle to his grandson about finding the bird in the loop, Abe dies. His intent was to get Jacob to find Miss Peregrine in the time loop she lives in, but because he is dying, Abe can not make this clear to his grandson. The movie skips forward after this traumatic experience to several months in the future, where Jacob finds a clue to his grandfather’s mysterious past on the island of Cairnholm in Wales. This discovery sets Jacob on an adventure to find out what really happened to his grandfather, and to learn about who he really was. This film is based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs and was published in 2011. For this adaptation I will be focusing on three things the filmmakers chose to change, and my interpretation of possible reasons as to why.
*Note: For readers who are unfamiliar with the story, Peculiars are people naturally born with abnormal or fantastical abilities, though they are rarely able to use their gift right at birth. Most Peculiars acquire the use of these gifts sometime during childhood, but it can happen anytime in their lives. There is a special type of Peculiar, called an Ymbryne, which are always female and can turn into a bird. What is most special about them though, is their ability to create loops which are time pockets that can be made for one whole day. As long as the Ymbryne is there to restart the loop they can live in that day forever. This is why Ymbrynes are charged with the care of Peculiar children, they keep the children safe from the outside world and it keeps them from aging.*


For those who were readers of the original novel one change that was made in the trailers, was the fact several of the peculiar children characters were going to change in one way or another. It is important to understand for non book readers that most of these changes seemed to be centered around the character of Emma, who is 16 years-old, and who is the love interest of Jacob in both versions of the story. However, only one child was not changed in some way, and that was Claire, who’s peculiarity and age are kept the exact same. The other character’s were changed in one of three ways: their age was changed, the peculiarity was enhanced in some way, or two characters switched peculiarities. One character whose age changed significantly was that of Olive; in the books she was 7 while in the movie she is around 16. One reason for this is the filmmakers may have wanted to give Emma a friend that was closer to her age, which is different from the book because the other girls were either slightly older or younger than her. Another reason for this could be since they aged down two characters in the book that had a romantic relationship, having another older girl left room for a secondary romance like in the books. This leads to the character of Enoch who was aged up from 13 to about 17 in the films and became the love interest for Olive; which was a little awkward for a book reader because Olive is supposed to be so young.
As for the other two types of changes with the peculiar children, both of this happened to the character of Emma/Olive. The reason I put the slash between their names is because the filmmakers kind of mix the two characters when adapting the book. In the book Emma has the peculiarity of creating and controlling fire from her hands, where as Olive is described as being light as air and without her lead shoes she would float away like a balloon. In the movie the two girls swaps their peculiarities and as stated previously Olive is made the same age as Emma. When researching this change the only answer I could find behind it was the director, Tim Burton, thought Emma as the love interest her being as light as air would be poetic. Honestly I don’t really understand this change and even after watching the movie several times I can’t really find a reason for this besides it being a plot device, because the filmmakers enhance Olive’s peculiarity when they gave it to Emma.
Instead of just making Emma float, which in the book actually had its uses, she is given the ability to actually control air itself. In the movie when Emma takes Jacob to a place where they can be alone she takes him to a sunken ship. Warning: from here it gets a little complicated. When she dives into the water, she still has her lead shoes on so she sinks, but it doesn’t appear she has any problem with the lack or air or pressure change going down so quickly. Then when Jacob follows her into the water he is clearly having trouble getting down so deep, so Emma blows air bubbles up through the water to him and one encircles his head so he can breath underwater. Finally when they get all the way down to the ship, Emma is able to blow all the water from the room around then and simply class the door to keep it out. I can’t really explain anything about how this would work scientifically speaking, maybe Steven can in his Science in Cinema blog (go read it!), but you know it’s a made up story and even though the book also had its share of illogical ideas none of them were this bad. What Ransom Riggs did really well in the book was he never made the peculiarities of the children too complex that they couldn’t be explained in some way made sense.
Going into the third thing the filmmakers decided to change, they completely rewrote the ending of the story in order to make a trilogy fit into one movie. From the beginning of the movie to almost the hour and 20 minute mark the movie is pretty much exactly the same as the first book in the series. Some of the scenes were so close to that of the book, it was almost uncanny as they seemed to come straight from the page word for word. Though there were some obvious changes they didn’t seem to really affect the overall tone of the story. Eventually though the movie diverges, and the end is really only reminiscent of the book because of the characters. Emma’s power in the film ended up being used to get the huge sunken ship to the ocean’s surface, so they could get to mainland England and perform a rescue mission to save Miss Peregrine after she was kidnapped. Though in the books Miss Peregrine does get taken in, the children end up taking row boats which seems much more logical, because how do a bunch of children know how to work a damaged ship? From there the children end up in London, where they find Miss Peregrine and the other captured Ymbrynes. This is kind of like the very end of the second novel and part of the third novel combined, but from then on it is basically different then the books. The children end up engaging in a battle in order to set the Ymbrynes free, and because this is the end of a movie made for children they win and no one is really hurt. I did some research about why the ending was changed, because I couldn’t understand why, and I found out the Tim Burton never planned on making the movie a series like the books, so it felt more natural to give the film a happy ending. This included erasing Jacob’s grandfather’s death, which never happened in the book and is not how loops work, because they only affect the Peculiars in the loop and nobody else.

Being a huge fan of the book series I was not very happy with how the movie ended, which was disappointing because I was really looking forward to it when the film came out. The changes with the peculiar children I could overlook because some of them needed to for reasons I could understand. This is a children’s movie, but like the book, it is for older children. That being said if any reader’s are thinking about showing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to their children be advised there are several scenes that are very intense and could be scary for young children. As a stand alone movie it is a great adventure, a little bit of horror, and cool fantasy elements to it, all things that would appeal to the target audience of teenagers. For my next blog post I will be looking at Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, based on the short story of the same name.

— Jo Spangler, Film blogger.

Jo’s bio:

Jo Spangler
Jo Spangler

Jo Spangler is a junior at Lewis University, majoring in English Literature and Language with a minor in Creative Writing. She is a writing tutor in the Lewis Writing Center and a Youth Enrichment Aide for the YMCA. In her free time, Jo enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, and watching movies. She has been to 10 countries outside the United States, including England, Italy, Turkey, and Austria. One of Jo’s favorite book series is The All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness, because of how she mixes the supernatural with history and the focus on character development. In the future, she hopes to go into the publishing industry to help find new and exciting books for people to read.


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