December 25, 2013 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Secret Life of Walter Mitty' offers sweet story of big dreams

Ben Stiller stars in and directs the film. (Wilson Webb / 20th Century Fox)

There’s a family-friendly fairytale sense to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

This is, after all, a movie about dreaming big and realizing life’s magic. At first these are only daydreams used to escape a humdrum life. But then the adventure enters the real world and hope is kindled.

Based on a very short story written by James Thurber in 1939 that was turned into a fanciful film starring Danny Kaye in 1947, this version stars and was directed by Ben Stiller, our modern-day uber-schlub.

Here he’s Walter, working with photo negatives in the bowels of a modern Life magazine. His life is so dull that he distracts himself with flights of fantasy where he performs feats of daring-do.

Complications include his unexpressed affection for a co-worker (Kristen Wiig) and the fact that Life magazine has recently been bought and a new hotshot exec (Adam Scott) seems set to fire most of the staff as things go digital.

Somehow the negative for the perfect cover photo for Life’s final print edition is missing. To track it down Walter has to find a legendary photographer (Sean Penn in an extended cameo).

First Walter sets off for Greenland, then Iceland, then Afghanistan, and his imaginary adventures are replaced by real ones. It turns out there is excitement to be had in life; Walter just has to grab it.

This is a notably more upbeat attitude than the original short story had and Stiller sells it well. The original daydreams are broad fantasies with limited impact; as the adventures grow real they start to matter. Walter Mitty no longer has to hide behind daydreams. In the world he discovers, even schlubs can live large.

'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'

GRADE: B

Rated PG for some crude comments, language and action violence

Running time: 114 minutes

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