My boys know a lot more about Tim Burton and Johhny Depp than an 8- and 4-year-old probably should.
Before you call DSS on our house, let me explain. Sweeney Todd
isn’t a staple of the O’Connell family’s movie collection, but Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
and the stop-motion masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas
(which Burton produced) are. And Depp’s on our radar lately because Brendan, our 4-year-old, is on a Jack Sparrow binge now that we’ve picked up the LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean
So when I pulled Edward Scissorhands
off the shelf this week as preparation for Depp and Burton’s latest collaboration, Dark Shadows
, the director’s gothic neighborhood wasn’t such an unusual place for my boys to visit. “Man, he likes scary,” P.J. commented over Burton’s opening credits for Scissorhands
, which alludes to Dr. Finklestein’s laboratory from Nightmare
. In fact, several visual cues from future Burton projects can be traced back to Scissorhands
. The director, as we’ll see, has a tendency to recycle things he likes.
For now, let’s open the door for the Avon lady, trim the hedges into dinosaur shapes, fend off an amorous Kathy Baker, and figure out when you can watch Edward Scissorhands with your kids.
Green Lights: “Heck of a handshake you have there, Edward!”
Edward Scissorhands was Tim Burton’s fourth feature-length movie, but his first with Johnny Depp. The two would work together six more times in the subsequent years, most recently on Dark Shadows. But they’ve yet to tap into so gentle a soul as Edward, still one of Depp’s most open-hearted, vulnerable and accessible performances.
Most of Burton’s films can be described as “Tim Burton’s version of FILL IN THE BLANK,” and with Scissorhands, it’s “Tim Burton’s version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein myth.”
Burton frames Scissorhands as a bedtime story, with a frail grandmother spinning a yarn to explain to her granddaughter why it snows. From there, we follow a lonely young man (Depp) with scissors for hands whose “father,” The Inventor (Vincent Price), dies before his work is complete. Years later, when a Avon saleswoman (Dianne Weist) finds Edward in his castle, she brings him home, where he causes a stir in their offbeat neighborhood and earns friends … as well as a few enemies.
With this re-telling of the Frankenstein story comes the requisite life lessons Shelley built in, many of which P.J. – our 8-year-old – picked up on his own during our viewing. The obvious obstacle Edward encounters is strangers who choose to judge his “book” by its disfigured “cover.” That metaphor is actually backed up by the presence of Edward’s castle, which looms over Burton’s faux-sunny suburb but actually houses beautiful floral creations for those who dare to get up close to it. If that metaphor doesn’t capture the essence of Edward Scissorhands, I don’t know what does.
Burton’s fairy tale dabbles in other recognizable lessons. Edward goes through awkward “growing pains” as he assimilates into his new environment, eventually tapping into his latent creativity and discovering his true calling as a hair stylist. Oh, and I waited until the scene where Peg shows Edward photos of her lovely daughter (Winona Ryder) before I told P.J. that thi was a love story, because I predicted his response.
But P.J., overall, loved the scenes of Edward perfecting his craft on the neighborhood shrubbery, or chopping lettuce in the kitchen. He howled when Edward punctured a water bed with his hands, or when he tried to eat peas with his scissor fingers. Then, P.J. stated how “frustrating” it must be to try and do something as simple as picking up a fork or eating when you have a physical disability. I couldn’t have been more proud.
Or protective. Though I watched Edward Scissorhands with my 8-year-old, there were a handful of scenes I skipped over. Let’s run through them.
Red Flags: “Trample down the perversion of nature!”
As Edward falls deeper in love with Peg’s daughter, Kim (Ryder), our hero annoys Kim’s boyfriend, Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). Bullying becomes another obstacle we’re encountering in the When Can I Watch column, though this one has a decidedly different outcome.
Near the end of Burton’s grim fairy tale, Edward confronts Jim in his castle. The set piece comes right out of Burton’s Batman or, later, his Sweeney Todd. And as in both of those movies, a “villain” fires off a gun, is killed, and dropped from great heights.
Jim's language, mostly spoken in the heat of an argument, also raised a few Red Flags. Nothing major, but enough to earn Edward a PG-13 rating.
A few other elements might bother one or two parents. Peg’s neighbors smoke. Kim’s father (Alan Arkin) gets Edward drunk on what he calls “lemonade” (though we call it Scotch).
And then there’s one scene I breezed over altogether. If my 8-year-old was marginally grossed out by Edward potentially hugging Kim, he really didn’t have to see Kathy Baker’s horny suburban housewife luring vulnerable Edward to the back of a vacant hair salon so she could seduce him by ripping open her top and shoving her (covered) breasts in his face. It was racy enough that we skipped over it, but it isn’t erotic. Older kids would probably laugh it off. I’m not there yet with my boys.
I was, however, very encouraged by P.J. warming up, big time, to the Kim and Edward relationship, so that by the end, when he finally figures out how to hug her and he makes it snow for her behalf, I think P.J. was touched. Danny Elfman’s stirring score helps sell the emotion, but it’s a series of genuinely sweet beats that conclude Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, making it a charming classic you might want to share with your young ones.
How young? You could probably watch Edward Scissorhands from start to finish with an average 10-year-old child. I’m a little trigger happy with the remote because I’m still trying to protect them from language when possible, and the violence on screen in Scissorhands is realistic, particularly when Anthony Michael Hall’s bully, Jim, bites the dust.
But Depp infuses Edward
with such a vulnerable gentleness that I think Scissorhands
can serve as a welcome introduction into Burton’s unique method of storytelling. And from there, you can transition to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
, Alice in Wonderland
and beyond. Let me know how it goes.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Monster Squad, The Avengers and Elf, to name just a few.