An artificial man with scissors for hands lives alone in a dilapidated manor above his town. Lured down by a kindly Avon lady, he at first produces a sensation among the townspeople, impressed by his skills at topiary and hairdressing. However, when he falls in love with a cheerleader, things become more complicated...
Once upon a time there was a young director who made two wonderfully imaginative films before really finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with Batman in 1989. Instead of cashing in on his biggest success to date, however, Tim Burton's follow-up here was about as far from a mainstream blockbuster as it is possible to get. Instead, Edward Scissorhands is a touching and decidedly left-of-centre fairytale, and, even from the man who has previously brought you Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Batman, his most whimsical film to date.
The Edward of the title (Depp) is not a man, but a creation of The Inventor (an all too fleeting cameo from Vincent Price). Edward looks human enough, except for one detail - he has scissors instead of hands - and lives alone in a crumbling mansion high above a street of pastel-coloured houses. Kind-hearted Avon lady Peg (a marvellous turn from Weist) miraculously discovers Edward's hiding place and brings him down to the "real" world, where he is soon embraced by her neighbours when they discover the boy's frustrated scissorhands are equally talented whether shaping hedges or creating outlandish hairstyles. Life is further complicated when Edward falls for Peg's cheerleader daughter (Ryder) and it is not long before the trusting innocent is coerced into committing a crime.
One of the many successes Burton pulls off in this delightfully odd film was to cast his various players against type in this dreamlike world. Anthony Michael Hall, for example, best known for playing the nerd in The Breakfast Club, succeeds here in showing a far nastier side in his role as oafish boyfriend Jim, while Winona Ryder brings a delicate touch to her underdeveloped role as the nice girl on the block. It is Johnny Depp, however, who was previously confined to standard bad boy roles, who surprised the most, creating a character trapped by his incomplete body, accurately conveying Edward's frustration without using many words, his pale, scarred face showing the hurt on discovering that even the gentlest touch with his Freddy Krueger-like blades can cause pain.
Edward Scissorhands certainly has its flaws, dwelling too long on Edward's talent for scissorwork and leaving a number of characters too thinly sketched for comfort. It remains, however, an ambitious and quite beautifully conceived fairy tale.
Tim Burton's modern-day fable succeeds beautifully as sharp comedy and achingly sad romance. The imaginative set design and spellbinding story are both superb, but the real joys here are the performances, particularly from Depp. It's still one of his finest moments, in a movie that is certainly one of the best fantasy films ever made.