It's time for bed, but this little girl wants her grandmother to tell her a story before she goes to sleep, so she obliges with something that happened during her youth. Her mother, Peg (Dianne Wiest) was an Avon lady, and after one day of visiting her neighbourhood and finding nobody willing to buy her products, she decided to take a chance on the mansion house that sat atop the mountain overlooking the town. Nobody really knew who lived there, but she was confident that someone resided within its forbidding walls, and after inviting herself in she made her way up to the attic and had a surprise...
There were not a whole lot of people sure what to make of Edward Scissorhands when it was first released: the reception can best be described as mixed. They liked the carefully rendered appearance of the film, but the most common complaints were either that it was too ornately fashioned to move as it set out to do, or that that it suffered a self-pitying quality that was hard to get past. Over the years, it became a cult movie, and its director Tim Burton, working with fellow scriptwriter Caroline Thompson, was a talent that audience around the world became a lot more used to, which could explain why this work saw its cachet rise.
It remains a deceptively strange film, taking place in some kind of limbo that can feature a candy-coloured suburbia from the sixties, a castle right out of a nineteen-thirties horror movie, and a number of trappings that set this somewhere around 1990, but never settling on one in particular. Its main character was taciturnly played by Johnny Depp, illustrating his increasing willingness not to go for the obvious in his leading man choices, and starting his long-running professional partnership with Burton that proved to be one of the most fruitful of their era. Depp captured the gentle anxiety of Edward without making him too pathetic, so when he begins to feel genuine emotion, most likely so will you.
For the opening half, that emotion would probably have been delight, as this could be a very witty film with some big laughs at the expense of a main character who they acknowledge is ridiculous. Scissors for hands? What kind of inventor would even think that was a good idea, even if he was played by that seasoned movie madman, Vincent Price, here in his final role? But to go along with this you had to accept a degree of fairy tale logic, and while the absurdity of Edward's predicament is hard to take seriously on the surface, crucially it was something the film made us believe in thanks to some lovingly crafted art design, committed performances (Wiest, Alan Arkin as her unfazed husband and Kathy Baker as a local busybody are especially excellent) and a plot that turned graver the longer it was pursued.
After all, if you wanted it you could see this as allegorical territory, as many of the best fairy tales were - the Christ story, the struggle of the artist, that sort of thing - but perhaps it operated best as a study of the outsider in general, realising that while they had their own novelty value, it was just one step away from being an outcast if you truly had problems fitting in. Edward is adopted by Peg, who like a doting mother sees the best in him when all around are losing their faith, and there he meets Kim (Winona Ryder), her teenage daughter who is running with meanminded boyfriend Anthony Michael Hall. In spite of its sweet appearance, Edward Scissorhands was actually very cynical about human nature, depicting in its updated Frankenstein way that the majority's suspicion and inability to believe the best of people are what inform public opinion, as Edward is forced to live down to their lowering expectations. And so he has to stay an exile, with only his sculptures for company, and the memories of the girl he loved but was unable to get close to: just the kind of bittersweet ending that the best fables had. Ethereal music by Danny Elfman.
American director, producer and writer, frequently of Gothic flavoured fantasy who has acquired a cult following in spite of the huge mainstream success of many of his projects. He began as an animator at Disney, who allowed him to work on his own projects while animating the likes of The Fox and the Hound, which garnered the attention of Paul Reubens to direct Pee Wee's Big Adventure.