A young boy, Kevin (Craig Warnock), is alarmed one bedtime when a knight on horseback bursts into his bedroom, then disappears. The next evening, he is ready for its return, but a bunch of little men arrive instead to take him on a journey across time...
Monty Python team members Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam wrote this unsentimental comedy fantasy. Time Bandits fairly heaves with ideas, and refuses to stay in the one place for very long. It's this quality that sums up its appeal and its problem. But it's not a big problem.
As with the Python material, Time Bandits takes a sardonic view of people. Most of the characters (other than the innocent Kevin) are self-serving, deluded or ridiculous. Napoleon (Ian Holm) is obsessed with his stature, overcompensating by conquering nations (and reciting the heights of famous figures in history). Robin Hood (John Cleese) is urbanely clueless, heading a band of thugs who assist him in his charitable cause. Only King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) is noble and heroic, but even he has the wool pulled over his eyes by the little men.
In spite of this wry approach, with an ironic, almost callous, worldview in the manner of an old-style fairy tale, it never stoops to sneering. This makes the characters seem more human, and there's something affectionate about the treatment of them here. Evil (David Warner) is obsessed with computers and the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) turns out to be a rather vague old gent somewhat lacking in boundless love for his creation - it's just a job to him. Even the unhappy ending raises a smile.
The only flaw is the film's episodic nature - it never settles down. The main plotline about Evil trying to steal the map of time never really gets going until the last hour. Still, the imagination on show compensates - just watch for the ship that turns out to be a giant's hat, or the final battle between Evil and the Bandits.