Kids have always got Terry Gilliam.
His animated skits in Monty Python showed a flair for silliness that begged to be made feature-length, and cult classic Time Bandits combined that anarchy with dark fairy tale aesthetics and barbed satire. It established Gilliam as a director, not just a Python, and gave a generation of children another reason to adore his work.
Schoolboy Kevin’s life is rather humdrum. The curious youngster is fascinated by history, but his parents are more interested in keeping up with their neighbours’ latest home appliances and watching TV than in showing any interest in him.
One evening, a knight bursts out of his wardrobe and before he knows what’s happening, a group of six time-travelling dwarves whisk him off on an epic adventure.
These unlikely robbers have nabbed a map of the holes in creation from their employer, the Supreme Being, and are going to use it to steal riches across time and space. Along the way they meet historical and legendary figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese) and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery), as well as ogres and a giant with a ship strapped to his head.
The villain of the piece is played by David Warner on scene-stealing form as Evil, who plots to acquire the map for himself. His character hammers home the anti-consumerism message flitting beneath the surface with his hilarious tirades against the Supreme Being, which all seem to hinge on him not inventing lasers before daffodils.
Gilliam and Palin’s script is sharpest in his minion-exploding and modernity-obsessed hands.
On top of that, scenes of Kevin’s home life depict the hollowness of his parents’ pursuit of gadgets, as they sit watching cheesy television gameshows on their plastic-covered suite. It’s a culture obsessed with meaningless stuff, and Gilliam takes it apart without breaking a sweat. Children’s films used to be this amazing.
Revisiting Gilliam’s imaginative and surrealist fantasy in high definition is joyous. Each frame feels full of intent and each line is sharp, with Evil being the most quotable by a long way.
Logic doesn’t apply here; Time Bandits is about the chaotic journey, surreal imagery and a healthy dollop of British absurdist humour. Sure, it could all have just been Kevin’s dream, but it’s a brilliant one.
Time Bandits is one of those ‘they don’t make them like this anymore’ nostalgia trips that thankfully stands up to closer scrutiny.