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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Flora & Ulysses is a quirky, kid-friendly story about a superhero squirrel. Based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, it has dramatic elements involving separated parents and action scenes played for humor. Ten-year-old Flora (Matilda Lawler) has become cynical as a result of her parents' struggles. She says that the hardest part of not having hope is watching people -- namely, her parents -- who once did have hope and no longer do. Flora demonstrates perseverance in pushing through the hard times thanks to a newfound conviction in Ulysses' superpowers. The squirrel, while adorable, causes mayhem and destruction wherever he goes, including tearing apart a diner and destroying a dining room. The animal control agent who's trying to capture Ulysses shoots tranquilizer darts randomly at Flora and other characters, hitting one multiple times. It's also said that Ulysses will need to be euthanized to test his brain tissue for rabies. A man nearly crashes his car with two kids in it, and a car door is ripped off. A temperamental cat attacks people, and Flora's friend William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) declares that his blindness must have been "hysterical" after it abruptly goes away. Flora's mom (Alyson Hannigan) writes romance novels, and some sensual book covers are framed on her walls. She and Flora's dad (Ben Schwartz) share an awkward hug and later kiss.
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What's the story?
The title characters of FLORA & ULYSSES are 10-year-old Flora (Matilda Lawler) and the squirrel she saves after a freak accident involving a vacuum. Flora is in a rut: Ever since her parents, George and Phyllis (Ben Schwartz and Alyson Hannigan), separated, which led both of them to stall out personally and professionally, Flora has been covering up her grief by feigning cynicism. Cynics, she warns, don't hope -- they see what's real. They know that magic and wonder and superheroes are imaginary. But when Flora saves Ulysses (voiced by John Kassis) and takes him home, she quickly realizes that he has special powers. He writes poetry, learns to fly, and may have other abilities. Together with her dad and new neighbor William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), Flora must protect Ulysses from the local animal control agent (Danny Pudi). And Ulysses, in turn, may just help Flora and her parents rekindle their belief in magic.
Is it any good?
This offbeat book-based film is as silly as you might expect from the premise, but it also packs a sneaky emotional punch. If you find yourself shedding a tear over the fate of, yes, a squirrel, chalk it up to the flawless, adorable animation of Ulysses and a mostly commanding performance by Lawler as the outwardly clever but inwardly despondent Flora. She's entirely convincing as a 10-year-old who's holding things together while her parents fall apart. You know she shouldn't be in that position -- any more than she should be sitting in the front seat of her dad's new sports car -- but that's part of the zaniness and also the weightiness of the role. Flora pulls her family back together through the strength of her conviction ... in a magic squirrel. Whether her story is real or imagined, well, that's up to you to decide. But it's the characters' own belief in magic that helps them rediscover their hope, confidence, and path forward.
Following Flora & Ulysses' use of superhero metaphors, Flora herself isn't unlike her dad's creation, the superhero Incandesto, whose light saves souls from the darkness of despair. The gold-clad Incandesto (Darien Martin), who regularly pops up to cheer Flora on, is just one more quirky but likable character in the cast, which also includes William, a dry, formal chap who has an unexplained British accent and blindness that turns out to be (as he says) "hysterical," and the squirrel-obsessed/tranquilizer-happy animal control agent Miller, whose mania recalls Bill Murray in Caddyshack. As these two character descriptions may imply, the film doesn't seem particularly concerned with contemporary political correctness. This -- together with throwback references drizzled throughout and a zippy soundtrack that includes classics from Tom Jones, MC Hammer, and Cat Stevens -- adds up to give Flora & Ulysses a somewhat retro feel.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the outlines of superhero tales mentioned in Flora & Ulysses, such as their origin stories, their discovery of purpose, and the expansion of their powers. What makes superheroes so appealing?
What is Ulysses' superpower? If you could have any superpower, which one would you pick?
This movie is based on a book. If you've read the book, how does the movie compare? If you haven't read the book, do you want to read it now?
- On DVD or streaming: February 19, 2021
- Cast: Matilda Lawler, Alyson Hannigan, Ben Schwartz
- Director: Lena Khan
- Studio: Disney+
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Superheroes, Book Characters, Wild Animals
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some mild action and thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 23, 2021
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