FROM E.T. to the Elephant Man to the Ugly Duckling, the noble-hearted outsider getting persecuted by society may be the oldest -- and most touching -- story in the book.
In "Edward Scissorhands," director Tim Burton gives that perennial tale a gothic-goofy twist, with amusing nods to Mary Shelley, MTV, the Brothers Grimm and Ozzie and Harriet. This extended parable about a shy punk-being (Johnny Depp) with blades for fingers, the high school girl (Winona Ryder) he's sweet on, and the gonzo-suburban world that fences them in may be on the palatably PG-13 side, but it's nonetheless amusing and inventive. Depp is perfectly cast, Burton builds a surrealistically funny cul-de-sac world, and there are some very funny performances from grownups Dianne Wiest, Kathy Baker and Alan Arkin.
Depp, a leather-jacketed, reclusive soul created by since-deceased inventor Vincent Price, is invited from his castle by benevolent Avon-lady Wiest, then adopted. He and his scissorhands are an immediate hit. Those blades turn out to be Rodin-tested when it comes to lonely women's hairdos, poodles and garden shrubbery. But they're not so good with people; he keeps hurting himself and others unintentionally. Depp also finds himself hopelessly in love with Ryder (Wiest's daughter), who's going with oafish (and vengeful) Anthony Michael Hall.
Hall's bad-boy doings set off a chain of events that leave Depp in a mistakenly criminal light. Suddenly the neighborhood's exotic hero is a freakish rebel on the run and the chances of a Depp-Ryder romance (other than in real life) seem doomed. The whole finale is an obviously trumped up scenario to push Depp into a martyr role, and its conclusion will leave more than a few viewers dissatisfied. But there's too much to enjoy to let that ruin a good time.
Depp is tender, affecting and, quite frankly, bloody pretty. Baker is serenely tacky as the sexually frustrated housewife who makes an intestinal-pink "ambrosia salad" and can't wait to jump on Depp's blades. Squinty-eyed Wiest is perfect as the dippy mother who sells cosmetics. "Hello, Avon calling," she pipes upon entering the dark, foreboding, cobwebbed interior of Depp's castle.
Burton, a kitsching cousin to the satirical skewpoints of Gary Larson, David Lynch, Erroll Morris and others, fills the movie with many of these, well, Burtonisms. Depp's castle, for instance, just happens to be located at the end of the road everyone lives on, a huge gothic structure towering above the homogenous houses. When Depp moves into the neighborhood, it isn't long before the street is a veritable gallery of crazy, front-lawn hedge creations, from dolphins to dinosaurs. He can also dice up a mean cole slaw and make brochettes with his hands. And when Ryder sees the cowering Depp for the first time and screams, you should see what he does to the water bed.
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (PG-13) -- Area theaters.