The current era of Disney has been greatly been defined by two things: photorealistic CGI animals, and the domination of the Marvel universe. Following the company’s big ambitions to recreate Pride Rock in the African Savannah or bring together a decade’s worth of worldbuilding into one epic finale that was Avengers: Endgame, it’s fun to see how both these sides of the House of Mouse can come together on a smaller scale to make a good old-fashioned family flick like Lena Khan's Flora and Ulysses.
The Disney+ film is based on the beloved children’s novel of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, who is also known for writing Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux before they became movies. Flora and Ulysses centers on a young Flora (Matilda Lawler), a self-proclaimed cynic who finds some optimism alongside a spunky squirrel named Ulysses while going back and forth between separated parents – a comic book writer (Ben Schwartz), and romance novelist (Alyson Hannigan). The movie makes for a fun-enough and simple adventure, filled with a playfulness that kids will enjoy and may spark the inner child in adults.
Flora And Ulysses has a whimsical concept that is handled all in good fun.
The best part about Flora and Ulysses is how it manages to live in the imagination of the tale while keeping its feet on the ground. We’ve seen the CGI-animal card trick from Disney a lot recently, particularly thanks to the live-action remakes of animated classics, but Ulysses has an originality and fun about him that makes for a unique use of the formula. In this instance, Ulysses is being looked at in Flora’s comic-reader’s eyes as a superhero who is playing out his origin story.
Ulysses is an intriguing creature to follow throughout the story, but what’s even more fun is the adventure and situations it creates for the live-action characters within the film. It possesses the childhood energy of running around the neighborhood of friends and family with illusions of alternate identities and purposes for the surrounding world. It emits creativity and imagination that very seldom has a place in family films these days. Flora and Ulysses goes for high jinks and slapstick over dastard nostalgia and depth, and that's just what we want to see from Disney every so often.
The charming cast is Flora and Ulysses’ secret weapon.
Ulysses is an adorable squirrel throughout the film, but the element that will win you over is the cast. How I Met Your Mother’s Alyson Hannigan plays at being an awkward and downbeat mother, whilst Ben Schwartz shines as Flora’s fun-time father, who shifts away from his life in adulthood to follow along on her quest with Ulysses. Once the parents get involved, it allows the family to confront some of what’s going on with them in an entertaining way. It’s especially fun to see Schwartz and Matilda Lawler play together. It's not easy to make this kind of concept work, but the cast and director Lena Khan bring it to life as gracefully as they can.
There’s also an all-star supporting cast, including Community’s Danny Pudi and SNL’s Bobby Moynihan. Flora and Ulysses leans into the ridiculous and exaggerated side of comedy by enlisting these expert improvisers, and it comes through well if you possess an appreciation for the goofy sensibilities.
There’s a lot to love in Flora And Ulysses for Marvel and Disney fans.
It’s also fun to see Disney play around with its Marvel toolbox for a story that is completely separate from the Marvel universe. Since it's rooted in comic book culture, the movie includes a wealth of Marvel references that will cleverly reel in more fans than a straight adaptation without these garnishes would have. Flora also gets to be part of the dawn of Disney’s first references to its new Marvel properties of the X-Men, Daredevil and Fantastic Four. This element makes for an especially cool aspect of the movie that kids and adults alike will enjoy looking out for during the movie.
And with superhero movies always cycling through rotation, there’s a comfort in seeing Disney change the pace for a concept about a woodland creature’s origin story with a young girl. Flora and Ulysses doesn’t take itself too seriously. Why would it? It's silly in the right kind of way. It's an airy adaptation of a classic book that may scurry right into your heart and serve as a great streaming option at home with family.
YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.
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