‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ Promises a Magical Journey

Adam Pockross
Movie Talk
Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig
Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig

We had to make sure we weren't dreaming, but after a thorough pinching, it's true: The first-look footage of Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" just may put a twinkle in everyone's eye come Christmas time.

To cap off its 2013 slate presentation at the annual CinemaCon gathering in Las Vegas, 20th Century Fox brought out the film's director and writer, Ben Stiller, along with his co-star Kristin Wiig, to present a sneak peek of "Mitty" raw footage. It is Stiller's adaptation of James Thurber's 1939 short story (which was first made into a movie in 1947), about a daydreaming photo editor at Life magazine who's never really done anything with his own life.

Stiller said he was "happy and nervous" to present the film he called his "most challenging and exciting and creative experience." The 47-year-old actor prefaced the footage by noting a saying that screenwriter Steve Conrad ("The Weather Man," 2005) once said: "Inside the breast of every American man beats the heart of a hero." Stiller described the film as a global adventure that's funny but serious, epic but small, realistic but also sort of a fairy tale.

[Related: First Look at Ben Stiller's 'Walter Mitty']

And the footage, which took the audience from Mitty's soulless apartment to the landscapes of Greenland, reflected such. Mitty has an active imagination, and it shows up in his workday fantasies (mostly about Cheryl, played by Wiig), including a vivid dream about meeting up with his craggy photographer coworker, played by Sean Penn, in a land far away.

After a worrisome boozy helicopter ride, some David Bowie music (set to images of Mitty's sweetheart, Cheryl), freezing shark-infested waters, and a montage offering previews of more epic-ness to come, it appears as though Mitty isn't dreaming at all. But, in a curiosity inspiring twist, Mitty's eyes suddenly open before the fade to black.

As the lights came up, the audience, filled with shrewd industry insiders, clapped. If the studio doesn't change the Christmas release date, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" has all the makings of Oscar bait.

And that's not just Vegas talking.