With 29 million subscribers in its first three months, Disney+ has clearly chiseled itself a nice little chunk of the streaming market. While most subscribers, I’ll warrant, are there for the back catalog of Marvel, Star Wars, Disney, and Pixar flicks, the channel’s original content is quickly emerging as a worthwhile use of your time, too. Along with the much-ballyhooed The Mandalorian and the Short Circuit animation collection, first-run films including Noelle and Togo have turned heads… and that brings us to Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, easily the streamer’s best original full-length feature to date.
Based on the popular kids’ book series by Stephen Pastis, Timmy is a clever and fun adaptation that seems very much like what the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie series could have been, had the Oscar-nominated director of a Best Picture winner been at the helm. As unexpected a choice Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) may be for Timmy, it doesn’t mean it can’t work. In fact, there’s very little about the film that doesn’t.
Newcomer Winslow Fegley leads the way as the titular boy detective desperately trying to survive fifth grade, a broken home, and a friendship with an imaginary 1,500-pound polar bear, all while trolling the streets of Portland, Oregon (“rife with crime, corruption, and Russians”), looking for his next case. Sure, they usually involve sub-petty crimes (a classmate’s backpack goes missing, Timmy’s mom’s Segway is stolen—because Timmy leaves it curbside), but the youngster takes each one deadly seriously and is even scouring the local commercial real estate rags to find some suitable downtown office space into which he can expand his operations.
Like any fifth grader, Timmy (who narrates the proceedings with a deliciously sly deadpan) has plenty of issues at school, including the wrath of a crusty old teacher that has it in for him (Wallace Shawn, in a delightful turn), an un-admitted crush on the cute little girl at the next desk over (who Timmy insists on ignoring outright or simply calling “the nameless one”), and the prospect of always being this close to suspension after making one mistake too many. Back home, Timmy’s single-mom Patty (Ophelia Lovibond) may seem ultra-hip—with her purple highlights and artsy tattoos—but she, too, is nearing the breaking point with Timmy’s disruptive antics.
Fear not, though, Timmy Failure unfolds with its tongue firmly in its cheek and with no intent whatsoever at preaching a message of polite behavior and respect. The screenplay, which McCarthy co-wrote with Pastis, is an equal mix of middle-school goofiness and quirky, adult-aimed humor (some of which will fall on deaf ears among the younger crowd—at one point Timmy, when hearing his friend is at fencing class, pictures the kid learning the difference between picket and chain-link).
The supporting cast, which also includes Craig Robinson and Kyle Bornheimer, buys in completely, eager to have as good a time as possible, and it shows. And cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who worked on Spotlight and also on 2012’s Silver Lining’s Playbook, seems to be having a blast, too, even pulling a little from Wes Anderson and Barry Sonnenfeld along the way.
With six more books in Pastis’ Timmy Failure canon, there’s plenty of material left to keep the train rolling down the tracks, and Disney execs would be smart to jump on it immediately, assuming they haven’t already. It’s a decision that should be just as obvious as a polar bear in Portland. No mistake about it.