Les Maîtres du temps (lit. The Masters of Time, a.k.a. Time Masters, Az id? urai in Hungarian) is a 1982 Franco-Hungarian animated science fiction feature film directed by René Laloux and designed by Mœbius. It is based on the 1958 science fiction novel L’Orphelin de Perdide (The Orphan of Perdide) by Stefan Wul. The film centres around a boy, Piel, who is stranded on Perdide, a desert planet where giant killer hornets live. He awaits rescue by the space pilot Jaffar, the exiled prince Matton, his sister Belle and Jaffar’s old friend Silbad who are trying to reach Perdide and save Piel before it is too late.
Note that this section refers to the English-language dub of Les Maîtres du temps, and certain details may differ from the original.
A man named Claude is driving a six-wheeled, insect-like vehicle over the desert surface of Perdide very fast. He attempts to communicate with Jaffar, saying that “they attacked.” After a crash that wrecks his vehicle, he lets his son Piel down from the wreckage; he cannot extricate himself. Piel is too young to comprehend the red and white, ovoid interstellar transceiver that Claude hands him. So Claude tells him that it is named “Mike” and will talk to him, and to do whatever Mike tells him to do, but first to run to a coral-like forest and stay within it. After Piel has reached the forest, the crashed vehicle explodes.
Jaffar is piloting a spacecraft, the Double Triangle 22. He plans to reach Perdide by being pulled along by the gravitational field of the Blue Comet. But he’s several planetary systems away, and does not go directly to Perdide or the Blue Comet. Instead he heads for a planet where his friend Silbad resides, as Silbad has experience of living on Perdide. Jaffar’s passengers, Prince Matton and his sister, Princess Belle, have been deposed from their planet; they bring with them a treasure the Prince took along to fund his restoration. Matton is not at all happy about being diverted and makes no attempt to hide his displeasure; throughout he is depicted as a lazy, arrogant and deceitful individual.
Each contacts Piel with the transceiver; when they meet Silbad, he sings Piel a song as well, as does the Princess. Whilst on Silbad’s planet, they witness the metamorphosis of a water-lily like organism into dozens of empathic, sentient, primary colored homunculi, two of whom, named Yula and Jad, stow away on Jaffar’s spacecraft seeking adventure. Unknown to the Prince, Yula and Jad play with and then dispose of the treasure via the airlock.
When Matton speaks with Piel, he nearly convinces the trusting boy to drown himself in a lake, but is discovered by Belle, who stuns him with a pistol weapon and talks Piel to safety.
In order to rendezvous with the Blue Comet, Jaffar pilots his craft to the planet Gamma 10. Prince Matton escapes in a shuttlecraft to the surface of Gamma 10, which is inhabited by faceless, identical white male angels. They capture both Matton and Jaffar, who followed in a space lifeboat. The men will be thrown into the living, thinking amorphous being which controls the planet. Although they are unable to rescue Jaffar, Yula and Jad are able to forewarn him of the fate intended for the captives: they are to become one with the controlling being, dominated entirely by it, losing all sense of individuality in the process and becoming one of the angel-beings. They instruct Jaffar to resist being assimilated with all the hate and contempt he can muster. When Jaffar tells the Prince to do so as well, Matton leaps into the being and does so, not only destroying it and the building but causing the skin and wings of all the angels to peel away to reveal that they were originally scruffy spacemen reminiscent of pirates. Rescued from the surface of Gamma 10 by Yula and Jad, the freed captives are taken to the Double Triangle 22, where they are given food and drink, and the presence of their minds cause comical problems for Yula and Jad.
Thereby Jaffar acquires a crew of misfits on the journey to Perdide. Soon afterwards, a patrol cruiser of the Interplanetary Reform catches up with the Double Triangle 22, pursuing the fleeing royals and the treasure the now-deceased Prince stole. Jaffar considers that the ‘pirates’ from Gamma 10 should be able to hijack the Reform cruiser and take it for themselves. During the discussion of this plan, one of rescued beings from Gamma 10, Onyx the Digeed of Gnaz, is revealed to be able to change his shape to resemble any other object. Onyx will impersonate the missing treasure, allowing the escapees to access the Reformist ship.
Jaffar’s vessel is boarded by massive numbers of troops, and as he presents his “captured” pirates and the “treasure” to the commander of the other vessel, none of the Double Triangle 22’s crew is able to converse with Piel, who begins to wander without supervision, encountering amiable native lifeforms. Aboard Jaffar’s ship there is congratulation as the docking tube between the two vessels retracts, and they speculate on how long it will take the pirates to take control of the military vessel. The military have overlooked the presence of Belle aboard ship, and in fact only seem interested in the treasure itself, rather than the fugitives.
Realising they have lost contact with Piel, the crew attempt to contact him, but this is now impossible: traveling with his native companion, Piel has lost his transceiver (and his companion) inside a cave filled with predatory hanging tentacles. He wanders, despondent, back to the lakeside, which takes him out of the forest his father had instructed him to stay within.
The Double Triangle 22 closes on her destination, but the planet is being transported through time by a bizarre race of aliens known only as the Masters of Time. Perdide and everything on it, including Piel, is sent back 60 years through time. The effect of time travel means that aboard the approaching Double Triangle 22, the starfield appears to go into flux, and the unprotected crew are knocked unconscious. They awake in a vast space-station, two halves of a bisected sphere the size of a planet, surrounded by a constantly rotating cube described by vast luminous edges. The crew have been treated for exposure to the time-travel area, but Silbad is dying. Yula and Jad, telepathically, reveal how Piel, by the lakeside, was attacked again by the creatures which killed his father, losing part of his skull before a passing spacefarer came to his rescue. Silbad, when first describing Perdide to Jaffar and Belle, had revealed a metal plate on his head to repair the damage of this attack, but never demonstrated explicit knowledge of Piel, his parents’ death, or time travel. It is now obvious to Jaffar and Belle that Silbad and Piel are one and the same person at different points in their life, which ends shortly thereafter as the unconscious old man dies. He is “buried” in space, and his funeral is attended by one of the Masters of Time, a tall luminous green biped, with a drooping, beak-like snout.