"Edward Scissorhands" is quite a surprise, an utterly enchanting fairy tale from Tim Burton, the kind of nice, gentle movie we just don't often see these days.

This is Burton's fourth film, following "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," "Beetlejuice" and "Batman," each of which has seemed to take place in a unique universe, some kind of parallel space and time that blends various eras and mores and movie conventions.Whatever you may think of Pee-wee Herman, his first film was a delightful enterprise - his own little "Pee-wee" world, if you will - brought to life by Burton's vivid imagination, with no small influence from his animation background.

Likewise, his comic twist on horror conventions with "Beetlejuice" and his gothic nether world in "Batman" brought to the screen stylized visions that seem at once alien and familiar.

With "Edward Scissorhands," Burton creates a movie that is just short of a masterpiece - his major flaw being one minor character that seems too cruel in the context of this sweetly conceived world.

Despite that problem, however, this tale of a young misfit who simply wants to be accepted, is a marvelous parable about prejudice and a sharp satire of suburban life that should be embraced by audiences tired of jaded, cynical movies.

The story takes place in a suburban neighborhood where the homes are all lined up in a row and painted in pastel colors, matching the owners' cars and clothes. Though apparently set in 1990, the movie feels like the 1950s.

High above them is a mountaintop horror-movie castle where an eccentric inventor (Vincent Price), in Gepetto-like fashion, has created a real, live boy named Edward (Johnny Depp). Pale, sad-faced and clad in black leather, he has scissors for hands because his "father" dies before replacing them with real hands.

Eventually, a kindly Avon Lady (Dianne Wiest) shows up at the castle door, takes pity upon Edward and welcomes him into her family, consisting of a distracted husband (Alan Arkin), a precocious young son (Robert Oliveri) and a high school cheerleader daughter (blond Winona Ryder). There's also the daughter's nasty boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall).

The neighborhood is filled with gossipy homemakers (chiefly Kathy Baker, cast against type as the town slut, and Conchata Ferrell), who at first are rudely curious about Edward. But later, when Edward reveals a talent for rapidly sculpting hedges into dinosaurs or swans, everyone wants her yard reworked - though he's still regarded as a freak. Before long he's into cutting hair, trimming poodles and ice-sculpting - the latter providing a particularly beautiful moment in the film.

But Hall's cruelty and Baker's seduction tactics eventually bring about Edward's fall from grace as he realizes the world isn't quite ready for him.

This is obviously Burton's vision, and he has created something very special here. The sets, the costuming, the visual imagery, Stan Winston's special effects, Danny Elfman's gorgeous music and nearly every performance are absolutely mesmerizing.

Depp's sad-eyed, tentative portrait of the tragic hero and Wiest's well-intentioned mother/wife whose acts of kindness backfire, are particularly notable. But Price, Arkin, Ryder, Baker, Ferrell and young Oliveri are also very good.

Hall, however, is far too thuggish as a troubled rich kid, and his character - and the character's ultimate end - are far too dark for this movie, which would have fared better with a "fun villain," if you will.

Despite that flaw, however, "Edward Scissorhands," from the opening moment with a rather unusual 20th Century Fox logo, to its fairy tale finale, is a supremely magical motion picture, at once familiar and like nothing you've ever seen before.

It is rated PG-13 for an ill-conceived scene of violence toward the end, along with a couple of profanities and vulgarities from Hall's character.