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Flora & Ulysses – Movie Review

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Flora & Ulysses – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Disney has a history of making films that mix a child’s sense of wonder with fantastical ideas. When done right, these can be really charming as well as present some much needed messages. Of the family movies produced for the Mouse House’s streaming service Disney Plus, Flora & Ulysses might rank among the best. The entire creative team, in adapting Kate DiCamillo’s book, has come together to craft a film with a lovely timeless quality and winning humour. From the moment we’re introduced to the superhero-obsessed Flora, we’re on her side and it becomes a joy to watch her on this comical adventure. Flora calls herself a cynic, but this film is anything but.

The large majority of credit should go to director Lena Khan and screenwriter Brad Copeland, who find the right tone and give the needed screen time to each important character. Flora most often interacts with Ulysses the super heroic squirrel and her separated parents and despite needing to give her these three arcs, everything is fully developed. This becomes a likeable family, with large thanks also going to the actors. Matilda Lawler, in only her second feature film role, brings plenty of enthusiasm to Flora. There’s a maturity there, but never too much that it feels like we’re just watching a screenwriter’s invention. Her scenes with the computer-generated Ulysses are believable, which is amazing for someone so young.

Along for the ride are Ben Schwartz and Alyson Hannigan as her parents. Each have to overcome difficulties of their own and the filmmakers properly flesh them out. Schwartz is given some of the more overtly comical scenes, which he nails, and he brings plenty of charm. Hannigan balances the trickiness of playing Flora’s workaholic romance novel writing mother and finds the humour with this character. There are also hilarious appearances from Danny Pudi as an animal control official, Kate Micucci as a waitress and Bobby Moynihan as a comic book store owner. If it seems like someone on the film really likes DuckTales based on these casting choices, the film confirms it for the audience in a cute in-joke.

The movie’s message supporting the reading of comic books is also appreciated and the filmmakers manage to jump seamlessly between the comedic set-pieces and the more emotional moments. The computer animation on Ulysses, courtesy of Framestore, is incredible with the visual effects team successfully having him fly around and pulling off some great slapstick. One aspect that doesn’t feel entirely necessary is a boy named William who Flora befriends. He could have been cut out of the story and it wouldn’t have affected the narrative that much, but he obviously exists so she can interact with someone other than adults and a squirrel. There are also a number of blind jokes employed with him that get old rather quickly.

Flora & Ulysses is exactly the kind of family entertainment one hopes to see studios produce. It has a respect for its audience, while also presenting a story that gives them something out of this world. It’s a celebration of imagination and Lena Khan’s direction has the needed bounce that keeps the story engaging. There is enough silliness to go along with the more serious scenes and the actors are all game for what they’re required to do. Flora & Ulysses is precisely the escapism we need when we’re still indoors and shows the incredible promise the Disney+ platform has, especially if it means its parent company is more willing to finance films like this.

Stefan Ellison