Portland Shines in Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

The Disney+ original, based on books by cartoonist Stephen Pastis, premieres Friday.

By Daniel Bromfield February 5, 2020

The Disney+ original film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, which debuts Friday, is set in Portland. It’s not shy about showing it.

Portlanders will recognize many if not most of the locales in the two-and-a-half-minute trailer: the St. John’s Bridge, Alberta Street’s Thicket nursery, and the towering Alma Tank on North Willamette, in whose shadow Timmy lives.

Though there’s no shortage of indie films by auteurs like Kelly Reichardt and Gus Van Sant that show off the city so lovingly, it’s safe to say a lot more people are going to be tuning into this one, which goes live to an audience of nearly 29 million subscribers. Early reviews are good, too. (It currently holds a solid 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.)

The film, based on a book series by Pearls Before Swine cartoonist Stephan Pastis, concerns a young boy who decides to start his own detective agency with a 1,500-pound polar bear named Total. (Total and Failure, get it?) The subtitle comes from Timmy's catchphrase, which he utters whenever he’s in trouble; judging from the escapades in the trailer and the fact that he’s the hero of a kids’ movie, he’s probably in trouble a lot. 

The books took place in a nameless, vaguely Southern locale. It was director Tom McCarthy, best known for dramas like The Station Agent and Spotlight (and that movie where Adam Sandler is a shoe cobbler), who decided to set it in Portland.

“[McCarthy] just felt like Portland was the right sensibility for the movie he wanted to make,” says Tim Williams, executive director of the Oregon Film and Video Office. “He had been here before, he had spent some time here, and he felt like this is the place that Timmy and a polar bear would make sense.” 

Indeed, the giant bear, quirky atmosphere, and upbeat indie-folk music we hear in the trailer will not dispel anyone’s stereotypes of Portland. But through the eyes of its young hero, it might help us see it in a new, more magical light.

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