Director – Tim Burton – 1990 – US – PG – 105 mins
Burton’s first post-Batman outing is essentially a fairytale set in the modern world.
A rare fusion of big budget American Studio movie and highly personal vision, Tim Burton’s first post-Batman (Tim Burton, 1989) outing is essentially a fairytale set in the modern world. Its environment is a pastel-shaded suburbia inhabited by gossipy women, largely absent men (they’re at work during the day) and equally absent teenagers (away on a camping trip). This is clearly not so much a naturalistic representation so much as a paradigmatic equivalent, which is probably just as well since at the end of one predictable street is an equally unpredictable, gothic mansion towering into the heavens.
As Avon Lady Peg Boggs (the versatile Diane Wiest) traverses this route, she wanders about first the magnificent castle grounds – adorned with exquisitely sculptured bushes – and into the creepy interior where she finds Johnny Depp’s Edward, the boy previously described in the film’s frame story by an old aged Winona Ryder as “a boy who had scissors for hands”. He also has numerous tiny gashes on his face, to which Peg painstakingly proceeds to apply her craft!
Such activity sets the tone for the piece, with its matriarchal housewives’ community besotted by the strange boy who quickly becomes first a sensation as he demonstrates considerable talent sculpting hedgerows, dogs, human hair, and then a threat when he unwittingly breaks into a house using his scissor hands as skeleton keys.
Former Disney animator Burton invests Edward with a unique walk, and the film is filled with other such wonderful pieces of directorial observation. While Winona Ryder doesn’t have too much to do in a teen love interest bit-part, Kathy Baker is magnificent as the caricatured, bored (read sex-obsessed) housewife who catalyses the local reaction to the boy.
What Caroline Thompson’s screenplay lacks in depth of characterisation, it more than makes up for in satisfying fairytale telling, even if the film does run a little out of steam towards the end. Vincent Price is pleasingly cast against type as a good inventor figure. The overall result is visually sumptuous, a poignant, contemporary fable, and a veritable treat.
Review published in What’s On In London, 1991.
(See my alternative review published in Film And Video – The Magazine.)