January 07, 2014
Family Film Blogging: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Posted by Christine Hurt

Our family did not travel much this winter break, so we saw a lot of movies.  Some of them without the children (American Hustle; Nebraska).  But, we saw a few with the kids, too.

The first movie to blog about was Walter Mitty, a movie that is rated PG.  In case you haven't been paying close attention, very few nonanimated movies are rated PG these days.  Frozen was PG.  In 2013, PG movies made up 5.8% of all movies released in the U.S.  Almost any movie with action is packed with enough action to make it PG-13 and attract a wider audience, like The Hobbit.  But Walter Mitty is PG, which makes it seem like it might be "fun for the entire family."  However, at least on Facebook, this is a debatable conclusion.

I saw Walter Mitty with my 12 year-old, who is an "old soul."  He liked it a lot, but I could tell that the ultimate point seemed to elude him.  This of course made for a nice discussion about big questions like the meaning of living life to its fullest; however, the movie will mean different things to different folks depending on your stage in life.  We did not take our six year-old, and he probably would have squirmed.  A lot.  It is not fast-moving.

Iwas not limited in my enjoyment of the movie by either having read the James Thurber short story or having seen the Danny Kaye movie.  However, I surmise that the 2013 movie differs from the stereotypical "Walter Mitty" character that merely daydreams adventures.  Ben Stiller's Mitty is a habitual daydreamer who (almost too easily) transitions into a true adventurer.  Walter's job at Life magazine, and the entire magazine it seems, is at stake unless he can find a missing negative (No. 25) taken by a famous Life photojournalist.  To do this, he embarks on an incredible journey across the globe.  Also unlike the stereotypical Mitty, the modern version has not always been content to observe the world from his basement desk at the Time-Life building.  We gradually learn that at 17, a mohawk-wielding, skateboarding Walter was on the verge of traveling the world when a family tragedy changed his plans.  The story is not so much one of a transformation of a shy, retiring dreamer into a man of action as one of a reigniting of lost dreams and passions.

Though we all enjoyed the movie, it is not without flaws.  At times it seems very long, and the parts that seem the most interesting are the shortest.  Much of his expedition is condensed and shown as a montage, while numerous scenes take place before and after that seem not terribly critical.  Many of these scenes involve his love interest, played by Kristen Wiig, the transition specialist whose job it is to fire most every Life employee after it is acquired, Mitty's family, and a phone rep at eHarmony.   Some of these scenes are interesting, with great acting, but they may not all be necessary. 

Reviewers haven't been that kind to Walter Mitty, but that's because it is not the kind of movie that makes adult comedies reviewable -- it isn't ironic, or self-aware, or clever, or witty, or laugh-out-loud funny.  It is nothing like Stiller's Tropic Thunder or Wiig's Bridesmaids.  It is straight-forward and earnest -- the kind of movie critics don't know what to do with anymore.  If it were animated, and Walter MItty were a daydreaming 16 year-old called out of his reverie to save the kingdom, then that would be familiar territory.  Probably the closest type of movie to Walter Mitty is Stiller's Night at the Museum franchise.

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