Film Review: Flora & Ulysses
Flora & Ulysses
Director: Lena Khan
Streaming on Netflix 02.19
Remember the Disney Sunday Movie? Of course, you’re a millennial. But if you weren’t, you would, and it was often the highlight of the week, television-wise. Television was something we had before streaming, when … You know what? Never mind. The point is that they were sweet, comforting family movies, the kind that was aimed both at kids and people who like kids and preferably had a fantasy element and an animal of some sort. Flora & Ulysses would have been perhaps the best Disney movie ever.
In Flora & Ulysses, an imaginative and creative 10-year-old named Flora Buckman (Matilda Lawler, The Block Island Sound) was once a wide-eyed, walking encyclopedia of superheroes and comic book lore, a trait she got from her father (Ben Schwartz, Parks & Recreation, Space Force). But now that her parents are separated, she’s become a card-carrying cynic who knows that superheroes aren’t real … or are they?
When a squirrel gets sucked up by a robotic vacuum gone mad, the squirrel’s brush with death causes him to develop powers far beyond those of an ordinary squirrel, allowing him to understand humans and even write poetry, using the antique typewriter that Flora’s mother (Alyson Hannigan, American Pie, How I Met Your Mother) is using to write her latest period-romance novel. Flora names the squirrel “Ulysses” after the brand of the vacuum cleaner, and she explains to Ulysses that he must use his newfound powers to right wrongs and fight injustice “or something.” Together, Flora and Ulysses can be a force for good, righting injustices, fighting for the oppressed and just maybe getting her parents back together.
Director Lena Khan (The Tiger Hunter) adeptly fashions entertaining family film with enough humor, action and warm fuzzies to please all but the most cynical of viewers, and, much like The One and Only Ivan, is exactly the kind of movie that Disney would be prioritizing over the endless parade of tedious remakes if they were able to put quality ahead of box office profits.
Lawler is adorable and gives a strong performance as Flora. Her resemblance to Hannigan is uncanny, and Schwartz is just as adorable. As is Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as an eccentric neighbor suffering from hysterical blindness, which is definitely a bit tacky but—as satire of overwrought “kids coping with trauma” movies—is pretty funny in an Arrested Development kind of way. This probably has something to do with the fact that screenwriter Brad Copeland wrote six episodes of the classic series back in its glory days, as well as three episodes of My Name Is Earl. Copeland adapts from the novel by Kate DiCamillo (The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie), and the sweetness of the source material combined with a slightly edgier sense of humor really works.
The legit cuteness factor is off the charts even without the squirrel, and even the most ardent CGI haters will be hard-pressed to claim that the effects aren’t well-done. Flora & Ulysses isn’t going to be on any major 10-best-of-the-year lists, but it’s a welcome family film that some adults will even enjoy watching on their own. –Patrick Gibbs