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Disney+ as a streaming service has had a lot going for it from the start with the strength of massive franchises like Marvel and Star Wars behind it, but at the end of the day those brands can only do so much heavy lifting. The original content created for the streaming service was always going to need to be compelling outside of those big names, and with the newest original film, Tom McCarthy's Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, Disney+ gets another great feather in its cap, as the movie is a hilarious and heartwarming story that the entire family will be able to enjoy.
Based on the book of the same name by Stephen Pastis, who co-wrote the screenplay with Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made centers on the titular Timmy Failure (Winslow Fegley), an 11-year-old boy who runs his own detective agency alongside his partner, an imaginary 1,500 lb. polar bear named Total. The appropriately named Total Failure Inc. finds itself with a number of intriguing cases that require unraveling in the city of Portland, Oregon. A fellow student's backpack has been stolen. A class pet has died under allegedly mysterious circumstances, and the Failuremobile, Timmy's mom's Segway which he borrows to get around around town, has been stolen. What are the answers? Who is guilty? And how are the Russians involved?
The answer to all of these questions is a resounding "who cares?" from most people – and that's part of the less than subtle anarchy built into Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. The story is one simply about being 11-years-old, even if the way Timmy expresses himself is far from what you see from a typical kid. The various adventures are simply a way to learn who Timmy really is.
Winslow Fegley is hilariously deadpan as Timmy Failure.
In classic film noir fashion, Timmy narrates his adventures for us, but his narration tells us one story, while we actually see something a little different. We're shown the reality of Timmy's life, both the mundane reality of suburban life with his single mom (Ophelia Lovibond), her potential new beau (Kyle Bornheimer), and the real difficulties that real life brings, to which Timmy is largely oblivious.
As the title character in Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, a great deal obviously rests on the shoulders of young Winslow Fegley to carry the film. Luckily, the child actor more that handles the load. Timmy's deadpan, self-serious delivery of nearly every line in the script is the sort of thing that could become very old, very fast, but the well-written script combined with Fegley's perfect timing never lets it feel tired.
Timmy doesn't have time for normal stuff like school work when his detective agency takes up nearly all of his attention. This causes serious problems for his mother – who wants to encourage her son's uniqueness, while also needing him to take responsibility – and a perfectly cast Wallace Shawn as Timmy's teacher, who always finds himself on the wrong end of Timmy's machinations.
Then there's the 1,500 pound polar bear. Total is omnipresent, as he almost never leaves Timmy's side, but he's not really a character. He is imaginary of course, and therefore invisible to everybody else, and while not explicitly stated, Timmy realizes this, as he almost never reveals the bear's existence to anybody. This means Total never impacts the plot in any tangible way. Instead, the bear's purpose is simply to exist, for reasons the film subtly explains.
Timmy Failure’s humor and heart will attract both kids and adults.
The "exceptionally mature for their age kid" is a trope that is well worn at this point, but that's not who Timmy is; he's a kid putting on an act of what he thinks an exceptionally mature person would sound like, which is exactly the sort of thing you might expect from an 11-year-old. He's a kid that other kids are going to easily relate to, while also delivering great lines that adults will find just as funny as younger viewers.
Humor is Timmy Failure's greatest strength, but this wouldn't be a Disney movie if it didn't try to tug at your heartstrings a bit, and Mistakes Were Made certainly does so with mostly successful results. Timmy's noir detective demeanor largely keeps his emotional connections at arms length, but this means the few times when the facade begins to crack are that much stronger. A scene in which Timmy learns he and his mother might have to move, thus upending the kid's stability, gives us a peek at the "real" Timmy for the first time late in the story. The scene's emotions are tame by most standards, but considering this is the first we've seen this kid really react, it's surprisingly powerful.
However, while Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made has its share of heart, it's ultimately only surface level emotion. While the formula for the film works, it fumbles a bit at the end. There's a moment at the beginning, when Timmy gives us the backstory to how the polar bear Total entered his life, that reveals more about Timmy than anything else we see. It's the sort of moment that the kids in the audience may not really understand, but adults will almost certainly see the connection. In fact, the same scene is replayed later in the movie, seemingly to make sure that the audience is all on the same page and understands the truth about the bear. And yet, the movie never deals with this piece of information, even after reinforcing it to the audience. As a result, it prevents Timmy Failure from having a successful character arc. He's maybe not exactly the same kid at the end of the movie as he was at the beginning, but he's close. The audience has certainly come to understand a lot more about him, but Timmy himself is missing that same understanding.
Timmy Failure stops short of addressing his, and the film’s, most emotional depths.
The movie's plot comes to an equally unsatisfying ending. Sure, it's clear from the outset that Timmy's various investigations of his detective agency aren't going to amount to much, as that's not the point, but without the satisfying conclusion of the character's narrative the fact that the story doesn't so much end as simply stop makes the entire conclusion feel lacking. Of course, there are several more books written by Stephen Pastis in this series, and so perhaps the lack of resolution is intentional, as i's meant to come after a few sequels.
While Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, as the title suggests, makes a couple mistakes, on the whole the film defies its title by being a hilarious and pleasant success. It's the perfect "family movie night" feature, no matter the family.