Winslow Fegley as Timmy Failure
Olivia Lovibond as Patty Failure
Craig Robinson as Mr. Jenkins
Wallace Shawn as Mr. Crocus
Kyle Bornheimer as Crispin
Ai-Chan Carrier as Corrina Corrina
Chloe Coleman as Molly Moskins
Kei as Rollo Tookus
Directed by Tom McCarthy & written by McCarthy and Stephen Pastis
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made Review
It’s been five years since Tom McCarthy set the Oscars on fire with the Catholic Church/Boston Globe biopic Spotlight and we’ve all been curious as to what his next project would be and the time has arrived for said film: Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, a Disney+ adaptation of the book series of the same name by Stephan Pastis, who co-wrote the film alongside McCarthy. Be it a product of its children’s novel source or the House of Mouse being involved with the project, there is a real charm and maturity that is seen in the film that also — unfortunately — finds itself thrown to the wayside in favor of more family-friendly material.
Much like the books, the film follows the titular 11-year-old as he runs a detective agency out of his mom’s closet with the help of his partner, a 1500-pound polar bear named Total and his best friend Rollo. While investigating the death of his class’ hamster, Timmy comes across his biggest case yet: the theft of the Failuremobile, his form of transport during investigations that really belongs to his mother and is getting him in big trouble.
Though the film’s plot has plenty of potential to offer a different kind of both private detective film as well as a children’s genre effort, it does, unfortunately, end up relying on too many tropes seen in the latter to make it intriguing or set itself apart. From the single mother who both wants to indulge her child in his wonderful imagination and needs him to see the real world as she struggles to support them both to the problematic child getting around town and getting into trouble because of said mother’s working all the time, the film drowns any genre-breaking with reliance on formula.
While the film’s story may find itself falling into many genre trappings, the humor at least feels fresh and rewarding for both younger audiences and their parents or older siblings. With plenty of deadpan delivery from both its younger characters and adults alike, as well as hilarious cutaways to situations the titular detective is conjuring in his head, most of the jokes stick the landing and will register a chuckle at the minimum when they’re not inciting gut-bursting laughter. Some of the best humor definitely spawns from Total, who proves to be a wildly adorable and clumsily lovable partner for Timmy and a joy to watch.
Though the plot and lead character might bring up themes often seen in family films, they are at least told in a fresh enough manner to keep reminding young audiences the always-timely message that it’s okay to be different, or as Timmy would say, “being normal is for normal people.” When I was just a couple years older than Timmy, my English teacher always posed the question to my class, “What is normal?” should someone be foolish enough to use the term in breaking down our readings and this film conveys this message in a way that even over a decade later I still need to remind myself of constantly. Whatever is considered “normal” is not in everyone’s wheelhouse and that’s fine, and while a movie with as odd a character as Timmy would typically see the message beaten over the viewers’ head, this one plays it up subtle enough to not treat its audience younger than its child characters.
The cast all prove to be perfect for their diverse characters, with Winslow Fegley proving to be plenty charming in the titular role and Ophelia Lovibond (Rocketman) bringing plenty of heart and dramatic heft to the role of his single mom. One of the shining lights from the cast proves to be Craig Robinson (Dolemite Is My Name) as Timmy’s counselor, Mr. Jenkins. While only appearing in a handful of scenes, Robinson finds a way to balance his always-reliable deadpan delivery with a more relaxed and caring tone that is perfect for his character as he finds a way to help teach Timmy some valuable lessons and keep him out of trouble in a way that suits the detective’s imaginative lifestyle.
Overall, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made features a number of tropes from the family genre that drowns out much of its more original material, but thanks to a heartwarming tone, mostly funny humor and great work from its cast, young and “old,” the film proves to be a relatively rewarding experience for all viewers.
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made will release on Disney+ on February 7!