FLORA AND ULYSSES is directed by Lena Khan, and is based on the 2013 book by Kate DiCamillo. It stars Matilda Lawler, Alyson Hannigan, Ben Schwartz, Anna Deavere Smith, Danny Pudi, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Janeane Garofalo, and Kate Micucci.
Young Flora comes from a family that’s seen better days, with her parents recently separating. Her father, once an aspiring artist, is in a creative slump, and has settled for a job in an office supply store. Her mother, a romance novelist, is in a creative slump. Flora’s become a cynic but remains a comic enthusiast, and upon rescuing a squirrel from a yard vacuum, becomes convinced the creature is a superhero. In addition to her family drama, the squirrel begins attracting attention from all around town – including from an inept but determined animal control officer.
With the future of theatrical movie watching in disarray, it’s no surprise to see plenty of movies going straight to streaming services, or going on them not long after their initial releases. Even before the current pandemic, Disney+, which launched in November 2019, has played host to many such original productions, TV shows and films alike. I can’t say that FLORA AND ULYSSES is a movie that’s going to take the world by storm. More a sidekick than a superhero, I think FLORA AND ULYSSES will entertain its target youthful audience, but this twist on the hero flick never soars as high as it should.
If nothing else, FLORA AND ULYSSES is worth praising for the quality of its cast. Matilda Lawler as Flora is full of spunk and wit, and she steals every scene she’s in, whether it’s an emotional exchange with her folks or her going to silly, over-the-top heights to prove her new squirrel is a superhero. Danny Pudi goes for broke in the role of an eccentric animal control officer, and you’ll wish he was in the movie more. One of the best performances in the film comes from Ben Schwartz as Flora’s father, a man relegated to a menial position due to his lack of success; it’s great to see the film delivers a character who’ll be relatable to so many of us.
It also scores points for going in a different direction than many superhero films (if you can even really consider it one). The sequences of Flora testing Ulysses’ abilities are reminiscent of many of SHAZAM!’s funniest sequences, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh a little bit during these moments. For what it is, FLORA AND ULYSSES isn’t a bad combination of heroic eccentricity and family drama.
Unfortunately, the film simply tries to do too much. The cast is far larger than it needs to be, with too many subplots. The parents are separating and each have plenty of personal drama. There are side stories and characters aplenty, very few of whom ever actually get the attention the deserve; the cast could’ve been halved, with no real loss to the overall end result, which of course, is wrapped up in a convenient “happily ever after” fashion that feels a bit like a cop out considering some of the worthwhile moments.
Another major issue with the film comes from the decision to include a character suffering from temporary blindness. Not only does this result in a lot of cheap “blind” jokes that are old hat and borderline offensive; it’s literally the whole character. And since his blindness is stated to be temporary, you know it’ll go away when the plot requires it. Even kids will see that one coming from a mile away.
My last point here (and admittedly a smaller one) is the fact that Disney seems to feel the need to name drop Marvel and Star Wars constantly. We get it, Disney. You own these properties now. You don’t have to mention or reference it in every single movie you put out.
FLORA AND ULYSSES is what it is, but I can’t give it more than two out of four stars; it’s a fun hour-and-a-half diversion sure to entertain its target audience, but not much else. If you’ve got Disney+ and you’ve got little ones to entertain, you could do a lot worse than FLORA AND ULYSSES, but you could do better too. Even with plenty of other programming already on the streaming service.
Rating: Two stars out of four.