Though the small actors have the largest roles in Time Bandits, it’s the average height actors who got top billing. Viewing the trailer, you’d be forgiven for thinking the ragged band of little people comprised only a small (sorry) segment of the story, but these are not ordinary little people. No, they are the Time Bandits, servants of the Supreme Being who have stolen the map of the holes in the universe, and are using every skill at their disposal to acquire gold and other riches. (Dwarfs in search of gems and minerals seems to be a common trope from literature, perhaps due to their facility as miners in getting through small passageways.)
The Time Bandits noisily burst into the room of a young boy named Kevin one night, and end up carrying him off on their adventure. In the course of their travels through history, the bandits explain that the Supreme Being created “all the big stuff” in the universe, but it was their job to create small bushes and trees. Later they were demoted to the job of repairing the holes in the fabric of spacetime, but stole the map of the holes out of spite.
Kevin and the bandits visit Napoleon, and ingratiate themselves with him by putting on a little song and dance number.
Napoleon befriends them, explaining to his generals that he prefers small things. (It is important to note that Napoleon himself was neither a little person himself nor particularly small; he just surrounded himself with unusually tall guards.) The bandits betray him after a good dinner, carrying off his gold into the next available rip in spacetime. They land in medieval England, and all the valuables are stolen by a foppish Robin Hood.
They make a hasty retreat to avoid being beaten, and Kevin gets separated from the main group. Lost in ancient Greece, he inadvertently helps Agamemnon kill a “minotaur”, and is adopted by him and treated with love and attention. Kevin would be happy to stay with his new father, but the Time Bandits unexpectedly show up with a better song and dance number to pull him away.
They next land on the Titanic. You’d think several-thousand-year-old servants-of-a-supreme-being would know about the fate of the Titanic, but it catches them by surprise.
The villain of the story, appropriately named Evil, makes himself known to the group by manipulating them when they travel to the Time of Legends. Captured in Evil’s evil lair, Kevin stays behind while the others go for help, bringing back warriors from different time periods and miniature weapons. Evil is defeated when the Supreme Being shows up to turn him into a block of cinders. The bandits humble themselves before the Supreme Being and apologize for stealing the map; he replies that it was all part of his plan. (One takes the opportunity to ask why there is pain and suffering in the world, and God replies “I think it has something to do with free will.”)
Time Bandits has, unfortunately, earned a place in the Disability Movie Hall of Shame, both for portraying little people as silly, greedy creatures, and for providing neither captions nor subtitles.