Last year for the Super Bowl, Jeep breathed new life into a pop culture classic when it revisited the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murrary —the Ad Meter winner of 2020. For 2021, General Motors is giving new life to another Hollywood gem, Tim Burton’s 1990 film “Edward Scissorhands.”
The ad, created out of Leo Burnett and released game day morning, is for the forthcoming electric Cadillac Lyriq. It seems to suggest an alt ending to the story of the misunderstood, modern-day Frankenstein, played by Johnny Depp, who finds love with suburban princess Kim, played by Winona Ryder. The pair ultimately separate in the movie’s bittersweet finale, Edward sequestering himself in his Gothic castle in the mountains above after his appendages are deemed too dangerous by the minions of the pastel-colored cul-de-sac world below. The Super Bowl spot, however, hints that Kim and Edward at some point met again—in 2021, they have a son named Edgar.
Though Depp doesn’t appear in the ad (driving us to wonder about Edward’s ultimate fate), Ryder reprises her role as Kim, now, a hardworking single mom with a mom ‘do, buttoned up in professional attire. Edgar, played by actor Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me By My Name”), is nearly the spitting image of his dad, with all his awkwardness and talents too: he’s a magnet for magnets in science class, punctures a football friends toss at him, and becomes a Michelangelo of meats and veggies at work, where he makes towering lunchtime masterpieces almost too beautiful to eat.
Kim sees how her son’s uniqueness has been dragging him down—but she manages to light him up when she brings home a Cadillac Lyriq, which Edgar joyfully drives sans blade hands thanks to its Super Cruise function.
The spot was directed by David Shane of O Positive, who was behind Super Bowl ads including this year’s mountain quest for Paramount+ and 2020’s Rocket Mortgage spot starring an incongruously bald and feeble-bodied Jason Momoa.
A 60-second ad will run in the game while a 90-second version, seen here, appears online.
The spot is part of a major marketing push GM is putting behind its electric vehicle ambitions as it plans to invest $27 billion toward electric and autonomous vehicle development and launch 30 EVs through 2025. It includes a corporate Super Bowl ad from McCann Worldgroup that was released Feb. 3 and stars Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina.
According to Leo Burnett Executive Creative Director Robert Clifton Jr., the brief from GM was to help kickstart Cadillac’s electric vehicle future with an idea that was original, emotionally compelling, visually arresting and delivered on a product proof point.
From there, Global Strategy Director Chris Bridgland says it became clear very quickly that the ad would center on electric crossover Lyriq, equipped with GM’s Super Cruise, billed as the first true hands-free driving-assistance tech. “This focus not only gave us a chance to talk about the EV future of Cadillac, but also lean into a next-generation technology that GM is proudly pioneering while giving our teams ample opportunity to explore creatively," he says.
That exploration led the team to revisiting Tim Burton's iconic character in some way. “The visual impact of seeing somebody drive with their hands off the wheel gave rise to the idea that ended up becoming ‘ScissorHandsFree’—a deeply human story, driven by the Cadillac brand,” Clifton Jr. says.
A crucial step to making the spot happen was getting the talent on board. Leo Burnett Managing Director Emily Shahady says Ryder enthusiastically jumped in and “loved the idea right from the start.” That was key since Director Shane says he “relied heavily on Winona to be kind of the guardian of the movie.”
To play the role of Edgar, the team had their sights set on Chalamet from the outset. “Yes, he’s one of the brightest young stars in Hollywood, but in looking across his performances, we loved his ability to subtly convey emotion and inject interest into characters,” says Clifton Jr. In the pop culture world, when fans have mused about a "Scissorhands" remake, Chalamet has been cited as a favorite for the title role.
And then, there was also bit of Super Bowl serendipity, he adds. “Timothée was recently in a movie with a star who was in one of David Shane’s other hit commercials (“Dune,” with Jason Momoa, star last year’s Rocket Mortgage game day spot). So he was already a David Shane fan.”
To seal the deal with Chalamet, UTA Marketing, which represents GM, brokered the partnership with the actor, a client of UTA.
Shane says there was a fascinating interplay between the two leads. “All actors have their own modes of working, and it’s the director’s job to both honor them but also kind of synthesize them in a way that creates a fluid and safe environment to take chances,” he says. “In my admittedly small sample working with them, Winona is a little more contemplative, and Timothée is maybe a little more instinctive. It was fun to watch them work and they clearly had affection for each other.”
One surprise came when Ryder saw Chalamet in wardrobe and makeup for the first time. “The original was so formative to her, she had a little out of body moment,” Shane says. “It was sweet and fun to observe.”
In recreating the Scissorhands universe, “My unspoken goal the whole time was to try to make sure Tim Burton was cool with what we did in the end,” says Shane. The team “did a deep dive into the world of the original and where we could, got in touch with the people who worked on it to find out the particulars of how they did certain things.”
For example, the sandwich-making scene was “a nod to all those POV shearing and cutting shots in the film,” Shane says. “We knew that those shots were done super low-fi—prop people threw dog hair up into a fan as Edward frantically worked his scissors in front of the camera.” So that’s what the team did—but with food.
Shane was also mindful of creating space for the talent to open up and shine too. "I love the shot where Edgar idly traces the fence with a scissor-finger as he’s walking and gets stuck," Shane says. "Timothée has the grace of a silent movie comedian and I thought it was dope that we could help him show off that side."
The ad was shot on location in Los Angeles following strict COVID protocols, including plenty of testing. In recreating Scissorhands suburbia, Shane and the agency assembled a talented team of production experts, including costume designer Melissa Des Rosiers, production designer Maia Jovan, and VFX pro Aron Hjartarson along with the team at Framestore. David Cronenweth (“The Social Network,” “Gone Girl,” “Fight Club”) was the cinematographer, while commercials vet Gavin Cutler edited. Yessian was behind the soundtrack that dutifully honors the original's score from Danny Elfman.
For the look of the spot, the team set out to honor the original film while updating it for today. “We made an early decision not to be as candy-coated and outsized with our stylistic choices—our colors are a touch more muted, the acting isn’t as pushed and stylized,” Shane says. “We constantly asked ourselves, ‘Did we overcorrect? Do you still feel the echoes of the movie in our choices?’”
“In its totality, this story is about a human being, albeit fictional, who has challenges but pushes on and is eventually rewarded by an experience that allows him to experience a bit of joy,” says Clifton Jr.
As for how the original film's director Burton felt about Cadillac extending the story, “It’s rare when a work you’re proud of continues to live on and evolve with the times, even after 30 years,” he said in a statement. “I’m glad to see Edgar coping with the new world! I hope both fans and those being introduced to Edward Scissorhands for the first time enjoy it.”