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Still shot from the movie: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) may appear to be the timid sort on the outside, yet in his imagination he's a daredevil adventurer. But when a real life crisis arises, Walter has to decide if he will leave his daydreams and face his worst nightmares.

Overall Grade: B+
Violence: B-
Sexual Content: B+
Language: B-
Drugs/Alcohol: C
Release Date: 25 Dec 2013
Run Time: 114
MPAA Rating: PG

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In-Depth Review

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a daydreaming human anachronism. He works in the “negative assets” department of Life magazine—meaning he keeps track of the photographic negatives in the publications extensive archives. Of course digital snappers don’t submit images on film, so activity in his department has been somewhat slow. That leaves Walter extra time to languish within a fanciful secret world, which of late has featured a newly hired coworker named Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). Sadly in truth, the recently divorced woman has barely noticed Walter’s existence.

The other reality Walter hasn’t recognized is how much his profession has changed in the past two decades. The once prominent periodical is about to print its last edition before undergoing a metamorphous into an online publication… with a fraction of its staff. The layoffs are under the direction of hotshot Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), a smartphone-toting taskmaster who seems to love watching anxious staffers scurry like ants after he has kicked their hill.

Typically Walter is buried deep below the action in the archives room, but when noted, old-school photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) submits a roll of film for the magazine’s final cover, all eyes are on the seasoned employee to produce the picture. It is an easy assignment—until Walter’s assistant Hernando (Adrian Martinez) removes the celluloid coil from its protective can and discovers the key image is missing. Determined to protect his reputation and recover the lost negative, Walter sets out to find the elusive O’Connell and the whereabouts of the missing frame of film.

This version of James Thurber’s famous short story bears little resemblance to Danny Kaye’s 1947 portrayal of the bumbling man with a chronic imagination. Directed by the lead actor, the 2013 movie thankfully also contains little of the edgy content often found in other movies Ben Stiller has starred in (such as Meet the Fockers and Zoolander). Raising the bar even further, this Walter Mitty features impressive cinematography, creative images (a short sequence of Walter making his way through airport security is particularly memorable) and unique locations (Iceland being in the forefront).

Parents of older children or teens interested in seeing the film won’t find a lot of reasons to say no. A pretend fistfight between Walter and his boss is depicted with some bloody injuries, along with a real, frightening encounter with a shark. Remarks about strippers and a few mild profanities are heard. And a drunken helicopter pilot insists on flying after guzzling down another huge glass of brew. (This portrayal may be of particular concern because the comedy of the scene belittles the seriousness of the situation.)

What I enjoyed most about the remake is the way it celebrates the wisdom of age, and places people above technology. Like the photographic film it enshrines, the story tries to capture the shadow of a disappearing way of life, as seen through Mitty’s rose-colored glasses.

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

Violence: A man imagines having a fantastical street fight with his boss that involves punching and other roughhousing (minor blood-covered injuries are briefly seen). In another imagined sequence a building explodes and a man rescues a woman from inside. Two men scuffle in a bar. A manager verbally bullies employees and throws paperclips at one. After jumping into water from a helicopter, a man is surrounded by sharks prior to being rescued. Blood is shown on a man’s forehead after he run into a post. A volcanic explosion threatens characters. A dangerous skateboard stunt is successfully attempted. A bar brawl, a bike accident and other minor accidents are comically depicted. A man gets in a fight with security guards.

Sexual Content: A mild sexual comment is made about men wanting to find a strip club. A couple of mild sexual terms are used. A man and woman hug and briefly kiss.

Language: A single scatological term, a mild sexual term, a crude term for male anatomy and about four other mild expletives are used. Terms of deity and name-calling are heard.

Alcohol / Drug Use: An obviously impaired helicopter pilot, who is seen drinking another huge glass of beer, insists he is fully capable of flying. (He does so successfully in the next scene.) Other: A man rides a skateboard on a public roadway.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

This movie is based on a short story by James Thurber.

How is technology presented in this film? Why do some people maintain a sentimental attachment to former technologies (in this case, photographic film versus digital images)? Can you think of other former devices that are making a comeback due to sentimental or perceived lost benefits?

Are Walter’s daydreams a blessing or curse? Do they motivate him or hold him back? Do you daydream? Do you think it’s a good use of imagination or a time wasting distraction? Here’s an interesting article on how you may benefit from daydreams.

How many product placements did you spot in this film? Why do moviemakers use these marketing ploys in the productions?

Video alternatives

Ben Stiller plays another character whose quiet job eventually leads to unexpected adventure when he spends a Night at the Museum. An adventure author, who is too afraid to even leave her own house, steps out of her comfort zone to help a desperate child in Nim’s Island.  An underachiever finds a little adventure in Gulliver’s Travels And a vivid imagination causes no end of trouble for Anne Of Green Gables. See Danny Kaye in the 1947 version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Release Date: 15 April 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty releases to home video (Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet) with the following extras:

-  Gallery: Reference Photography

- Behind The Scenes

- Deleted and Extended Scenes

- Music Video “Stay Alive”

- Theatrical Trailer

Join the Conversation

About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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