Flora & Ulysses (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Director: Lena Khan
Cast: Matilda Lawler, Alyson Hannigan, Ben Schwartz, Anna Deavere Smith
Disney over the last decade has definitely cemented itself as one of the true pioneers of superhero storytelling in the industry through their Marvel acquisition. Knowing how much of the contributions to the genre have been through their own personal brand of family friendly influence, it makes it a bit strange how they have suddenly made a new film which acts partially as a new spin on the brand they helped to build. Being based on the popular Children’s book of the same name, Flora and Ulysses is certainly a quirky idea: that being of a young girl’s relationship with a squirrel with superpowers. With much of the familial themes of stories, love and family at the front lines here too, this quirky family comedy should have been one to really set Disney+ subscriptions on fire. However, the obnoxious family comedy cliches and trappings prevent the film from reaching the awesome potential it might have had.
For those uninitiated with the book, the story follows Flora, a ten year old comic book fan and cynic who’s in a rough patch in life with her creative writing parents going through a separation with the dad in particular hit hard with his own comic creations not surviving any pitches. But her life changes when she saves a squirrel she names Ulysses from an accident and over time discovers of his unique superpowers which help her reconnect with her dad as they try and protect him from local authorities.
Where Flora and Ulysses succeeds most is within the cute quirkiness of its concept. It’s not everyday when a film about a squirrel with superpowers becomes a thing to enlighten families on their screens so the idea is definitely an appealing one. With the film’s central focus being on a family of creative writers and a young girl’s obsession with comic books, the film has a solid heart with the concept also integrated to create a film about the importance of stories. How our experiences and our writing can help us come together either as friends of strong family units. There is a bit of weird irony to it all with the film having this heartfelt message being integrated through a squirrel, but the film’s optimistic take of cynicism does help it to at least work in concept.
Which is all a bit of a shame because while Flora and Ulysses certainly works as a concept, in execution, that’s where it falls quite hard. Despite all the good intentions in mind, the film feels so obnoxious most of the time that a lot of the heart is usually squandered by bad comedy and pretty silly sequences that don’t feel as though they have the self-awareness to back them up. The film’s 2nd act is where the film starts to show its blunt edges as it devolves into a very cliche plot involving the main leads having to escape the authorities who are going to such extreme lengths to get their hands on just one squirrel. It’s so utterly dumb, and a lot of the time, the film plays the conflict pretty straight so the comedy never works even in the ironic sense. On the plus side, at least, Ulysses the squirrel is impressive to look at. Despite the cartoonish nature, there is a solid mixed blend of photorealism to his actions that help to stand out as a cute animal sidekick while not feeling as though he enters the uncanny valley territory. Even if the film isn’t very good on the whole, it’s definitely visually pleasing as it also mixes it all in with several animated sequences played during narration that replicate a lot of the comic book panel art style reminiscent of Marvel Comics.
Flora and Ulysses is a frustrating film overall. Not because it is awful, but because it had such a quirky idea with many possibilities that just never strikes the landing it needed. The cast in this film do a fairly strong job with the material given, especially Matilda Lawler who is especially dorky and adorable in the starring role, but the flat comedy and the cliched story prevent it from being anything all that special. It’s still a visual treat for a streaming film and there might be enough for younger kids and some families to get invested in just through the silly antics or nice message, but there are other stronger offerings to be found on Disney+ for the time being.
FINAL RATING:- 4/10 (WEAK)