A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
Parents and caregivers: Set limits for violence and more with Plus
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the main character of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is a misfit whose refusal -- or inability -- to be a "normal" kid will resonate deeply with some kids. Still, the film -- based on the popular books -- keeps the tone largely upbeat and humorous, thanks to the boy's outlandish plots, his unique imaginary friend (a bear), and fantasies (like the gloomy "Our Crusher of Souls" middle school), as well as an eccentric cast of Portland characters and settings, sweet friends, and loving adults. Timmy's detective agency, "Total Failure, Inc." and his wild schemes for cracking cases are inventive. Those closest to him consider him positively unique, but one angry teacher and others find him an exasperating nuisance. To get out of trouble, Timmy engages in some white lies to his mother and plenty of delusional thinking (like that he'll open an agency downtown instead of going to middle school). Mild violence is mostly imagined and language is limited to "crap," "loser," "dumb" and "weirdo."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
TIMMY FAILURE: MISTAKES WERE MADE turns on a fifth-grade boy (Winslow Fegley) who believes himself to be the head of a successful detective agency. Recording clues on an old tape recorder, donning a red scarf at all times, and accompanied by an imaginary friend, a 1,500-pound polar bear, Timmy disparages his classmates and teachers as annoying and disturbing. Saddled with the last name "Failure" but believing himself destined for "greatness," Timmy feels nobody understands him but his bear. His loving mother (Orphelia Lovibond) tries, but she's out day and night working two jobs to make ends meet, leaving Timmy to his own endeavors. The boy's vivid imagination about plots involving Russian operatives and evil classmates gets him into perpetual trouble. Absent a father figure in his life, Timmy is encouraged by two caring men -- the well-meaning meter maid (Kyle Bornheimer) dating his mom, and the astute school counselor (Craig Robinson) -- to adapt better to the real world without giving up his imaginary one.
Is it any good?
This inventive, book-based movie pulls off the rare trick of being a thinking person's film for kids.The Oregon city that provides the setting for Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made has the unofficial slogan to "Keep Portland Weird." Likewise, this film's tagline could read, "Keep Timmy Weird." The quirky tale celebrates difference, be that in the form of a misfit 5th grader with an exceptional imagination, or in its Portland setting, home to self affirming murals, naked bike races, bearded hipsters, activist kids, and tattooed librarians. "Normal is for normal people," Timmy and his struggling mom say, in defiance as much as self preservation.
Timmy's single-minded, boy-against-world superiority is laugh-out-loud funny, but as it slowly dawns on the viewer that his refusal to adapt is actually problematic for his own well being as well as for the adults who care for him, the film also becomes a poignant psychological study. His imaginary friend and emotional crutch is the polar bear Total, and their tender, E.T.-like hand-to-paw farewell implies a new beginning for the boy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the pros and cons of being different, like the main character of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.
Have you ever had an imaginary friend? What did you enjoy most about him/her/it?
How did the filmmakers put a polar bear in Timmy's house and on the streets of Portland?
Have you read the Timmy Failure books? How is the movie similar or different?
- On DVD or streaming: February 7, 2020
- Cast: Winslow Fegley, Ophelia Lovibond, Kyle Bornheimer
- Director: Tom McCarthy
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book Characters, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 12, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love quirky movies
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch