Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is the kind of enjoyable, PG comedy that I could have seen myself enjoying growing up. The thing is these kinds of PG movies don’t get released into theaters much anymore since the only films for kids are either animated films or PG-13 superhero blockbusters. A PG comedy today like Timmy Failure lands on Disney+, and honestly, that’s actually not a bad landing spot, seeing that it’s nice and easy for parents to tune in to. Tom McCarthy’s adaptation of Stephan Pastis’ books of the same title embraces its title character’s wonderfully vibrant imagination while never sacrificing the real emotional stakes he’s dealing with. Timmy Failure is the kind of film where a kid can pal around with an imaginary polar bear, but the polar bear also represents a fear of letting other people get close. It’s pretty delightful.
The film centers on our title character (Winslow Fegley) who fashions himself a hard-boiled detective working the mean streets of suburban Portland, Oregon with his partner, Total, a giant polar bear who came to town because his home, the polar ice caps, are melting. As a protagonist in a children’s adventure Timmy is somewhat hard to warm up to. It’s unusual, but far from a debit. He’s eccentric but not quite precocious, charismatic but not plainly lovable, he doesn’t fit the Disney-kid mold any more than he fits into his bewildered peer group, and McCarthy and Pastis’ screenplay sympathetically attunes to his misfit status. Together, Timmy and Total run the Total Failure Detective Agency, but Timmy’s flights of fancy have a habit of getting him into trouble, especially since he tends to view everyone — his classmates, his teacher (Wallace Shawn), his guidance counselor (Craig Robinson), and his mom’s (Ophelia Lovibond) new boyfriend (Kyle Bornheimer) — with suspicion. That’s not to mention Russian operatives that may be pulling the strings. While Timmy’s desire to live in his own world give him a great sense of self, it inevitably makes trouble for everyone else in his life, to which Timmy can only respond in his signature deadpan, “Mistakes were made.”
What makes Timmy Failure work so well is that McCarthy doesn’t just see Timmy as a quirky kid who says “Affirmative” instead of “Yes” and behaves like he’s a shaggy-dog noir detective. McCarthy and Pastis realize that Timmy’s imagination, while fanciful and funny, is also his defense mechanism. The film skillfully paints in the margins of Timmy’s life like his dad walking out on him, how his mom is always busy with multiple jobs, and how Timmy has trust issues. Timmy Failure doesn’t come right out and announce these difficulties. Instead, it uses Timmy’s imagination to illustrate why he has trouble getting close to people. So instead of Timmy just having a crush on a girl in his class, she has to be “The Nameless One” and maybe she’s in cahoots with the Russians.
One of the strongest elements of Timmy Failure is the balance it’s able to strike in showing how Timmy’s imagination is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. It’s the thing that makes him special and interesting and provides his bottomless self-confidence, but it also pushes people away and prevents him from thinking about the consequences of his actions. Because Timmy is kind of off in his own world, he doesn’t necessarily care about everyone else’s feelings, which can make him a little cold-hearted. And while we don’t really get a lot of psychological insight for Timmy, it’s thanks to Fegley’s endearingly deadpan performance, that helps provide some emotion beneath Timmy’s actions even if he hides it behind a wall of self-seriousness.
Though it can caught up a bit in repetition Timmy Failure remains pretty much everything you could want from a PG family film that’s coming to streaming. If your burdened by the cost of tickets, concessions, and the wrangling of children to get them to the theater, this film may not be “big” enough to warrant that kind of effort. But with it arriving on Disney+, Timmy Failure is a welcome addition, the kind of film that kids could easily end up watching again and again as they embrace the defiant oddball, his whimsical world, and relatable anxieties like moving on to middle school. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is a movie for today’s young audiences, and it’s great to see them get a worthwhile film like this that they get to call their own. Wholesome, gently paced, and filled with deadpan humor, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is a celebration of the power of imagination that steadily balances the fanciful and the humane.
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is available to stream now on Disney+