Much to young Kevins surprise, his bedroom wardrobe contains a time hole, through which spill a gang of time travelling dwarves with a map of the universe that have elicited from The Supreme Being. So begins a journey for the young Kevin that will includ
Arguably, Terry Gilliam’s most wholly satisfying film, this dazzling, dizzying fantasy is everything that makes the sublime if infuriating director so revered with added solidity. This could be down to the fact he aims the story squarely at kids, without abandoning those familiar strains of surrealism, humour and darkness that make him such a unique artistic proposition. Here, with its ordinary boy on extraordinary adventures theme, we are granted an accessible guide through his ineffable weird-verse in the wide-eyed but unmawkish Craig Warnock. Which means it also comes nearly clean of that potential for keep-it-in-the-club clever-funny smugness left over from the Monty Python days.
Without the need for too much logic (never Gilliam’s strength) this is a picaresque tumble through time in the company of a half-dozen scamps given tremendous personality by Michael Rappaport and his crew as they bicker and badger their way along their bumbling quest. There’s some good starry stuff thrown in: old mucker John Cleese does a memorable reworking of Robin Hood as an awfully decent, rugger-bugger buffoon, Sean Connery is striking, and manly as legend’s King Agememnon, and Ian Holm’s is a suitably gruff and stroppy Napoleon.
Yet, as we are voyaging through the extraordinary spaces of Gilliam’s imagination, with some help from fellow-Python Michael Palin on the script (which counts for the sharp turns of wit), mere time travel is only half the adventure. There is also the idea we are penetrating a dream-universe inside bookish Kevin’s head, an escape from his humdrum existence where he is all but ignored by his parents who are zone out to television game shows and worship pointless gadgets. Thus the litter of toys across his bedroom floor come to form the emblems of his encounters (Greek warriors, Merry Men etc.). It allows Gilliam the freedom to drift into complete fantasy as the huddle of untrustworthy dwarves are tapped in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, where David Warner turns up as the Devil and Ralph Richardson makes for an entirely reasonable God. All part of an Alice In Wonderland, the one story he is forever remaking, skewed fittingly to the enduring Gothic spill of this curious director’s untameable creativity.
For a kids film this is pleasingly dark with Gilliam delivering as much classical fairy tale as knockabout comedy.