Odd trivium: The real stars of this picture are six dwarfs: Randall, Fidgit, Strutter, Og, Wally, and Vermin. There was going to be a seventh, name of Horseflesh, but they dassn’t annoy the massive Disney machine. I mean, really! Does Disney own the rights to the very concept of seven small people in a band? Apparently so. This is unconscionable overreaching, in my opinion.
Since none of the dwarfs was famous, Terry Gilliam needed some major marquee names to bring in the crowds. And boy, did he get them! John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, Michael Palin, and Ralph Richardson all had minor parts, and David Warner had a larger one. Cleese plays a Robin Hood whose band of merry men look about as merry as the undead crew of the pirate ships in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Connery is King Agamemnon. Warner is, simply, Evil. The great Sir Ralph Richardson is slyly hilarious as a schoolmasterly Supreme Being.
This was Terry Gilliam’s second solo directing gig (he co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Terry Jones, the most unfairly neglected of the Pythons), and the first real look at his penchant for outrageous settings and crazy stories. Later we would get films like Brazil and 12 Monkeys, but this is the one that first awed me. We have seen so much in the past thirty-five years that it is not quite as awesome as it was then … until you remember that Gilliam had no CGI to enable him to cheat the effects. Then it becomes awesome all over again. And the story is lovely, following an innocent English boy back and forth through time with the motley band of six (count ‘em, Walt, six) dwarfs, stealing things from Napoleon and others. And the climax, when he returns home to find his house on fire and then sees his idiot parents go up in smoke … well, that was startling. It seems the producers (George Harrison was one) didn’t want to go with that ending, but when it was test-screened with a bunch of kids most of them said the part they liked best was Mum and Dad getting blown up! Kids can be frightening sometimes, can’t they?