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Disney+ Review: Flora & Ulysses

February 19, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of Disney’s hottest and most profitable properties. The simple fact is that superheroes are hugely popular with audiences, and this is exactly what Disney is hoping to capitalize on with their new film Flora & Ulysses, which premieres on Disney+ today.

The film, which is based on the children’s novel Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, introduces us to a different type of superhero; a squirrel, to be precise, who gains his powers after being sucked into a robotic vacuum. This outlandish premise gives way to a pretty enjoyable family movie that has a surprisingly sweet message about gaining a positive outlook on life and keeping your family together.

The main human character in the film is a girl named Flora (Matilda Lawler). She is ten years old and a self-processed cynic, who loves superheroes and comic books, a trait that she has inherited from her father (Ben Schwartz), a failed comic book artist who has just moved out. Her mother (Allyson Hannigan) is a romance novelist, who is struggling to write now that her own marriage has dissolved.

Flora is the one who rescues the squirrel in question from the runaway vacuum, and performs CPR on him to resuscitate the poor creature after him pulling from the tank. The fuzzy little guy springs back to life, and Flora names him Ulysses after the brand of vacuum. Ulysses becomes a much-needed friend for Flora, and she soon discovers his newfound abilities to fly, communicate with humans, and even write poetry. But not everyone is enamoured by the wonders of this superhero squirrel. Flora teams up with her father, and a boy her age named William Spiver (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who is afflicted by “hysterical blindness,” to protect him from a squirrelphobic animal control officer (Danny Pudi).

What I liked about Flora & Ulysses is how the film keeps its focus on the characters, despite the fact that it is about a squirrel with superpowers. Yes, there is a lot of slapstick humour here, some of it better than others, that does seem geared towards younger audience members. But there is also a suitably heartfelt story to go with it, about a family coming back together and getting back in touch with what’s really important in life.

The lighting in the film does look a bit cheap at times, and there is also an ornery animated cat that falls deep into the uncanny valley. But director Lena Khan and screenwriter Brad Copeland do a decent job of bringing DiCamillo’s book to the screen and juggling the story’s mix of tones, from quirky humour to quieter character moments. Ulysses himself is a cute computer-generated creation, and the young Lawler does a fine job of carrying the movie as the precocious Flora. It’s a cute film with a surprising amount of heart, and one that young superhero fans in particular are sure to enjoy.

Flora & Ulysses is now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.

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