A painstaking British parody of Spielberg's snug suburbia sets the tone for the Childhood chapter in Terry Gilliam's Imagination Trilogy: The boy (Craig Warnock) devours history books, the parents prattle over kitchen appliances, there is plastic on the sofa and a game-show on the telly. The towering knight (later elaborated in The Fisher King) bursts through the bedroom wall, though the plot doesn't fully shift into fantastic gear until a gang of pillaging dwarves led by David Rappaport slides a wall into another century, chased by a booming Oz visage. The diminutive thieves are a good-natured bunch, having in their possession a filched map of time-portals that enables them to crash across time and space into valuable Monty Python sketches, played to a tee -- Ian Holm's Napoleon engrossed by "little things hitting each other," John Cleese's abstracted Robin Hood in leafy-green uniform and pointy hat leading a bunch of bestial medieval crooks, Michael Palin and Shelley Duvall as moony sweethearts tied to a tree, Katherine Helmond playing New England housewife to Peter Vaughn's ogre. Sean Connery is unveiled as King Agamemnon after a Satyricon jibe, Warnock is whisked away by his tiny comrades from ancient Babylon to the Titanic, where the sinking is summed up with one tilted camera angle and one tinted shot from A Night to Remember. (Or is it Cavalcade?) The beguiling serendipity longs for the old Thief of Bagdad Powell-magic, complete with a hulking baldie donning a galley as a hat and lovingly analog FX (the opening credits proudly present a "Handmade Films" production) offered against Eighties blockbuster mania -- the "technological dawn" waited eagerly by the Evil Genius (David Warner)? Either way, Gilliam luxuriantly cherishes the fact that the "fabric of the universe is far from perfect," all the better to savor free-floating absurdism ("So this is what an invisible barrier looks like!") and Ralph Richardson as a tetchy Supreme Being in a resplendently rumpled business suit. With Kenny Baker, Jack Purvis, Malcolm Dixon, and Tiny Ross.
--- Fernando F. Croce