December 10, 1990 6:22 PM EST

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EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

Directed by Tim Burton

Screenplay by Caroline Thompson

Once upon a time, an aged inventor (Vincent Price) lived in a mansion at the edge of Any Town, U.S.A. His crowning creation was a young humanoid named Edward (Johnny Depp). Alas, the old genius died before he could give Edward human hands. So for many years this benign creature lived alone. Until one day an Avon lady (Dianne Wiest) came calling, and then . . .

Aaaooh, who cares?

The fable is in disrepute these days. Any fantasy that trumpets its artifice with storybook colors and extravagant decor — all to illustrate the parable of a malformed artist-messiah rejected by his flock — is asking for trouble. Perhaps only Tim Burton, fresh from his Batman bonanza, could have the clout to make such a defiantly vulnerable curio as Edward Scissorhands. And perhaps only this former animator could make it work so beautifully. A witty comedy of manners that arcs into poignance, this is a Christmas movie only a Grinch could hate.

Edward is the innocent other, a literary type that stretches from Kaspar Hauser to Being There‘s Chauncey Gardiner to E.T. — and to the heroes of Burton’s Beetlejuice and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. When the Avon lady brings him into her spectacularly bland neighborhood, she unawares sets his creativity on a collision course with her friends’ anxious conformity. At first the housewives accept Edward’s handicap as a gift. His metal shears can dice vegetables in a trice, turn a drab hairdo into a chic coiffure and sculpt front-yard bushes into exotic topiary: ballerinas, pterodactyls, even a group portrait of the all-suburban family. And how pleased Edward is to be a guest of this brood — especially since it includes teenage Kim (Winona Ryder), to whom Edward will give his love as soon as he stops giving her the creeps.

Depp, who wears the hyperalert, slightly wounded expression of someone who has just been slapped out of a deep sleep, brings a wondrous dignity and discipline to Edward. Wiest does a delightful turn on the plucky, loving mothers from old sitcoms. The whole movie, in fact, time-travels between today and the ’50s, when every suburban house could be a quiet riot of coordinated pastels. But the film exists out of time — out of the present cramped time, certainly — in the any-year of a child’s imagination. That child could be the little girl to whom the grandmotherly Ryder tells Edward’s story nearly a lifetime after it took place. Or it could be Burton, a wise child and a wily inventor, who has created one of the brightest, bittersweetest fables of this or any-year.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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