The fantastic tale of an 18th century aristocrat, his talented henchmen and a little girl in their efforts to save a town from defeat by the Turks. Being swallowed by a giant sea-monster, a trip to the moon, a dance with Venus and an escape from the Grim Reaper are only some of the improbable adventures.
In the late Eighteenth Century, a European town is under siege of the Turkish army. Meanwhile, the theater company owned by Henry Saltis entertains the dwellers with the production of "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". Out of the blue, an old man interrupts the presentation claiming that he is Hieronymus Karl Frederick Baron von Munchausen and the tells that he is the one to be blamed by the Turkish attack. The Baron Munchausen tells how he had won a bet against the Sultan with the abilities of his servants Berthold; Adolphus; Albrecht; and Gustavus and earned his treasure. Further, he offers to help the locals against the Turks and builds a balloon to seek out his missing servants. During his journey, he finds the girl Sally hidden in the balloon and they travel to the moon, where they meet the deranged King of the Moon Roger with his detachable head, and his wife, the Queen of the Moon Ariadne that has a crush on the Baron. They are arrested by the jealous Roger and find Berthold in the cage, but Ariadne releases them. When they escape from the moon, they meet Adolphus working to Vulcan inside a volcano. The Baron Munchausen seduces the gorgeous Vulcan's wife Venus and the jealous god throws them in a whirlpool. They are swallowed by a monster and they meet Albrecht and Gustavus in a ship inside the monster. They escape and return to the town to help the people against the invaders. But they are very old and their abilities are gone.
Baron Munchausen is a character of European myth that might be considered the predecessor of American tales of Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan. The Baron's stories are taken to be outrageous and fanciful lies. This is the origin of the name of the psychiatric diagnosis of "Munchausen's Syndrome", a particularly bizzare form of hypochondria.
An account of Baron Munchausen's supposed travels and fantastical experiences with his band of misfits.
- The film begins in an unnamed and war-torn European city in the late 18th century (dubbed "The Age of Reason" in an opening caption), where, amidst explosions and gunfire from a large Turkish army outside the city gates, a fanciful touring stage production of Baron Münchhausen's life and adventures is taking place. Backstage, city official "The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson" (Jonathan Pryce) reinforces the city's commitment to reason (here meaning uniformity and unexceptionality) by ordering the execution of a soldier who had just accomplished a near-superhuman feat of bravery (Sting in a cameo), claiming that his bravery is demoralizing to other soldiers. Not far into the play, an elderly man claiming to be the real Baron interrupts the show, protesting its many inaccuracies. Over the complaints of the audience, the theater company and Jackson, the "real" Baron gains the house's attention and narrates through flashback an account of one of his adventures, of a life-or-death wager with the Grand Turk, where the younger Baron's life is saved only by his amazing luck plus the assistance of his remarkable associates: Berthold (Eric Idle), the world's fastest runner; Adolphus (Charles McKeown), a rifleman with superhuman eyesight; Gustavus (Jack Purvis), who possesses extraordinary hearing, and sufficient lung power to knock down an army by exhaling; and Albrecht (Winston Dennis), a fantastically strong man.
When gunfire disrupts the elderly Baron's story, the importance of saving the city eclipses the show. The Baron wanders backstage intending to die, until the exuberantly enthusiastic questioning of Sally Salt (Sarah Polley), the young daughter of the theater company's leader, persuades him to remain living.
Insisting that he alone can save the city, the Baron escapes the city's walls in a hot air balloon constructed of women's underwear, accompanied by Sally as a stowaway. The balloon expedition proceeds to the Moon, where the Baron, rejuvenated by the escape, finds his old associate Berthold, but angers the King of the Moon (Robin Williams), who resents the Baron for his romantic past with the Queen of the Moon (Valentina Cortese). A bungled escape from the Moon brings the trio back to (and beneath) the Earth, where the Roman God Vulcan (Oliver Reed) hosts his guests with courtesy and Albrecht is found. The Baron and Vulcan's wife, the Goddess Venus (Uma Thurman), attempt a romantic interlude by waltzing in air, but this cuts short the hospitality and Vulcan expels the now-foursome from his kingdom into the South Seas.
Swallowed by an enormous sea creature, the travelers locate Gustavus, Adolphus, and the Baron's trusty horse Bucephalus. The Baron (who again appears elderly after being "expelled from a state of bliss", in his words) struggles with the conflicting goals of heroism and a peaceful death, before deciding to escape by blowing "a modicum of snuff" out into the sea creature's cavernous interior, which causes the sea creature to "sneeze" the heroes out through its whale-like blowhole.
Back ashore, the Turkish army is located but the Baron's associates are now too elderly and tired to fight the Turk as in the old days. The Baron lectures them firmly but to no avail, and he storms off intending to surrender to the Turk and to Jackson; his cohorts rally to save both the Baron and the city.
During the city's celebratory parade, the Baron is shot dead by Jackson. An emotional public funeral takes place, but the denouement reveals that this is merely the final scene of yet another story the Baron is telling to the same theater-goers who were attending the theater in the beginning of the film. The Baron calls the foregoing "only one of the many occasions on which I met my death" and closes his tale by saying "everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after."
An ambiguous finale reveals that the city has indeed been saved, even though the events of the battle apparently occurred in a story rather than the film's reality. The Baron rides off on Bucephalus. As the Baron and Bucephalus are bathed in the light of the sun parting through the clouds, they apparently disappear, and the credits roll over a triumphant blast of music.