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Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made cast talks CGI bears and imaginary friends

By Jenna Busch
timmy failure

The hardboiled kid detective is on the case in the latest Disney+ original film — and he's brought his imaginary polar bear along for back-up. The new kid-friendly flick Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made premieres on Disney+ on February 7. After hitting the Sundance Film Festival this week, the cast and crew headed to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood for the red carpet Thursday night.

In the film a young boy named Timmy Failure runs his own detective agency called Total Failure. The “Total” in the name comes from his employee, his imaginary best friend, who just happens to be a 1,500 pound polar bear of the same name. The cast includes Winslow Fegley, Ophelia Lovibond, Craig Robinson, Kyle Bornheimer and Wallace Shawn. The film is based on the popular series of kid’s novels by Stephan Pastis. Pastis also co-wrote the screenplay with Oscar-winner Tom McCarthy. Yes, the Tom McCarthy who wrote and directed Spotlight.

Winslow Fegley

Of course, only Timmy can see his imaginary friend, so we asked the cast and crew if they had imaginary friends when they were little kids. Community star Yvette Nicole Brown (who mentioned she is a huge Mandalorian fan, since we were on a Disney+ red carpet after all) was on hand to support the streamer, after appearing in Lady and the Tramp. “You know, I had an imaginary twin,” she told SYFY WIRE. “I’ve never told anybody this because it sounds a little loopy. I named her Veronica, Ronnie for short, and me and Ronnie were buddies. I never talked to Ronnie out loud, because we were twins and we had that telepathy. Fun times!”

Yvette Nicole Brown

Fegley, who Brown described as “an old man in a tiny body,” said that it was “very fun to work with kid and adult actors,” and said it was “pretty cool” to be at the El Capitan. “I didn’t have an imaginary friend, but I did play make-believe a lot.” He said his brother and sister were always there to play with. 

Wallace Shawn of Princess Bride fame, however, joked that his imaginary friend was his publicist. “You think he’s really here, but I know that he only appears for premieres. I bring him everywhere, and he holds bags.” 

Wallace Shawn

Lovibond, who plays Timmy's mom, said she couldn’t believe no one had asked her yet if she had an imaginary friend. “I did! This is going to make me sound a little strange. He was called 'Fly,' and he was a fly! Really not much imagination here, but he was an actual fly. Really, the same size as me. Really weird. I wouldn’t eat unless there was a place set for him at the table. I was like, ‘Mom, it’s so rude. You’re going to upset him.’ For years, she had to lay a place at the table for Fly!”

Ophelia Lovibond

Bornheimer plays a meter maid in the film, and the supportive boyfriend of Timmy’s mother. He said that he had imaginary friends here and there, but even cooler, he told us, “I thought I had the Force from time to time.”

Chloe Coleman who plays Timmy's friend Molly said, “You know what? I had many. It would be one of those things like, who am I going to make today? I’m going to make a panda. Then the next day there would be a new one…today I’m talking to a monkey. I’m not even kidding!”

Bringing the book to life

Pastis told SYFY WIRE that it was unbelievable to find out his book series was going to be made into a film. He said it was a dream for a writer to get to write the screenplay for a film based on his work and to work with Tom McCarthy. Of imaginary friends, he said, “I didn’t have an imaginary friend, but I lived in my head [as a kid]. I sat and drew all day long and that’s how I stayed sane. Timmy’s thing isn’t drawing, but it’s a bear.”

Production designer Philip Messina talked about how they based Timmy’s vision of the horrors of middle school on Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and creating sets around the giant polar bear. In the book series, Timmy’s office is in his mom’s closet, but how do you fit a polar bear in there? Messina explained, “The spaces got engineered to fit the bear. We made a stuffed Total…it was a big stuffed animal.” He continued, “I made [the office] an unfinished part of the attic. The first day we dragged the polar bear onto the set, which was really on the second floor. It was really cool.”

Fegley spoke about working with the “bear” on set. “They built this suit and a guy named Michael would go into it. It was great working with him because acting is reacting, as everybody says…it made my performance better because I had something to work off of…he did such a good job being a polar bear.”

By the way, if you’re a fan of the book series, Pastis told us that he’s written a prequel. “It comes out April 7 with Hyperion. “That was hard to write, because it has to flow into book one. That’s a weird way to write. It’s like writing chapter one after you’ve written the book.”

Are you going to check out Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made when it hits Disney+ on February 7? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @SYFYWIRE.