Flora and Ulysses is a fun and clever adaptation of the award-winning children’s book by famous author Kate DiCamillo. A cynical and friendless ten-year-old girl awakens the superhero powers of a brave squirrel after saving him from an accident. The movie is loaded with CGI creature banter, but it’s the human characters and subtle humor that steals the show. Flora & Ulysses targets children with a degree of sophistication rarely seen in the genre. It becomes somewhat laborious in the final act, but it has already won you over with sincere kindness.
Flora Buckman, brilliantly played by Matilda Lawler, is a girl who has lost hope. Her parents have recently separated and they are all struggling with the consequences. Flora’s mother, Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan), is a romance novelist with writer’s block. His father, George (Ben Schwartz), is a failed comic book artist who was never able to provide for his family. Flora sells her beloved comic book collection. Superheroes are silly fantasies. The real world is harsh and unforgiving. She has fully embraced cynicism.
Flora changes her tone after the neighbor’s robotic vacuum cleaner sucks in an unfortunate squirrel. In a scene that made me laugh out loud, Flora brings the nut-loving arboreal rodent back to life. She calls him “Ulysses” after the model of the wandering contraption. As Phyllis does her best for inspiration, Flora realizes that Ulysses can understand her. The squirrel then begins to exhibit amazing abilities. Flora tries to deduce Ulysses’ superhero purpose, but ends up on the radar of a squirrel-hating animal control officer (Danny Pudi).
Each character has a trait that makes them fun and endearing. Flora’s dark and defeatist outlook becomes clear when Ulysses reunites his family. The squirrel doesn’t speak, but … drum roll please … you can write poetry and arrange word tiles into concise sentences. The cast’s reactions to Ulysses’ poetic endeavors are hysterical. Flora and Ulysses it is much more fun than expected.
The film incorporates the visual style of the novel. Flora sees her story as a comic. He imagines his father’s superhero creations following the adventure. Comic panels are inserted between key scenes to accompany the action. This adds an imaginative element to the flawless squirrel CGI. The production design, editing, and visuals are well done here. Director Lena Khan (The tiger hunter) shows significant skill in his second feature film. She provokes a banner performance of her young protagonist in a technically complex film.
Flora and Ulysses runs out of creative juice in the end. It lasts until a ninety minute edition is complete. A shorter cut would have tied the movie together more effectively, as the narrative lapses in the last ten minutes. I’m also curious how a supporting character will be received. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth co-stars as William Spiver, a boy who is “hysterically blind” from stress. The actor is good and quite funny, but his laughs come at the cost of being blind. It will be interesting to see, pun intended, if anyone takes offense at this description. Flora and Ulysses is a Walt Disney Pictures and Gil Netter production. It will be available to stream on February 19 exclusively on Disney +.
Topics: Flora y Ulises, Disney Plus, Streaming
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