Flora & Ulysses
Flora & Ulysses 2021
I’ve been keeping my streaming subscriptions down by only subscribing to two of them and rotating them every few months. It’s been a while since we’ve had Disney+, I let it lapse right before the Mandalorian season 2 finale. So now with three whole MCU series to catch up with, I figured it was a good time to get it back and catch up with everything. And meanwhile, they also released two different kid-friendly superhero movies on there. Look for my review of the Secret Society of Second Born Royals within the next couple weeks. But I thought this one sounded a little more tolerable so I gave it a shot. I knew going into it that it was mostly a movie about a family coming together and just a little bit about a superhero squirrel. It actually made me laugh pretty hard several times, but at the same time it was full of family movie cliches that felt pretty tired. Once again, since this is a relatively current movie, there are spoilers ahead, though as I mentioned, most of them are pretty obvious.
Let’s start out with the superhero angle, here the young girl Flora saves a squirrel from a runaway lawn Roomba-type thing. At first it was seemingly a lawn mower except that would have been too gruesome so it must have been a vacuum that somehow got loose in her neighbor’s yard. Flora gives the squirrel mouth to mouth to revive it, names it Ulysses after the name of the vacuum, and eventually it shows that it understands her, can communicate through the typewriter, and eventually shows that it has super strength and can fly. At first it’s questionable as to how much of this is real because there are several moments in the very beginning of the movie where Flora sees the comic book characters that her father writes as if they were actually around her in real life. But while the superhero figments of her imagination are never seen or interacted with by any other character, many different people see and experience the squirrel’s super powers. This actually muddled things a little bit because there wasn’t a clear separation between the superhero figments of her imagination and the real-but-incredible things that Ulysses was doing. It would have worked better if the superhero figments were more clearly separated from reality rather than having these characters appearing to be integrated into reality.
On the family movie side of things it follows a pretty clear pattern. Flora’s parents are separated and are on the verge of getting a divorce. Her father is a failing comic book writer who’s working at an office supply store to pay the bills while her mother is a romance novelist who is suffering from writer’s block. Once Flora adopts Ulysses, she keeps it a secret from her mother who thinks it’s just a wild pest. There are plenty of moments where Ulysses causes typical squirrel problems, usually in his quest for food where he accidentally causes extreme destruction with comedic results. Through the adventures with Ulysses, Flora’s parents end up realizing their feelings for each other once again and come together as a family by the third act. The other big cliche that often happens when dealing with an animal in some type of adventure is that the villain of the movie is an animal control officer who seemingly has a past with rabid squirrels so he comes after Ulysses with a vengeance.
As far as the comedy of things go, there are plenty of absurd and slapstick moments that land pretty well. There’s a neighbor boy named William who has hysterical blindness that’s played up for plenty of comedy as he milks not only his blindness, but also the hysterical aspect of it with good results. He acts like he has heightened senses despite the fact that he’s only been blind for a short period of time and doesn’t really know how to do anything as a blind person. Like when he feels Flora’s face so he can “see” her, he just runs his hands over her face for a while until he says that it just feels like a face. There are also plenty of moments of physical comedy involving a very ferocious outdoor cat that cartoonishly attacks the animal control officer. It helps that it’s played up by the father when Flora visits her father’s apartment and he warns her to watch out for Mr. Klaus who chases after them at several different points. It doesn’t help that the cat is very clearly a CGI creation that’s far below the standard of something like Toy Story 4. There was also one funny moment involving Flora dropping a Titanic award for romance writing into a pond where the trophy recreates the ending of Titanic. Most of the humor is silly and absurd, like when the film spends a good 30 seconds on an electric car lock gag, but it generally works.
All in all, Flora & Ulysses is a decent family movie. It doesn’t really do anything groundbreaking and the superhero aspects are mostly just window dressing. There’s plenty of actual Marvel superhero references though surprisingly not a single mention of Squirrel Girl, and not to be completely one sided there was a brief glimpse of Batman comics at one point. It was also slightly disappointing at one point early on Flora commented on her mother’s age, saying that she was 40. Her mother, played by Alyson Hannigan corrected her by saying 36 and yet the actress herself would have been 46 and it didn’t seem like she was just lying about her age. It was just a weird moment in general. The action/adventure scenes were generally ok aside from being rather cliche, especially the climax where they had to free Ulysses from the animal control shelter. Ulysses as a character worked well enough, they didn’t lean too hard on his ability to speak through typing. Instead it was only used for a handful of key moments, and while he was clearly a CGI creation, there was enough stylistically to make him feel more like a character than a creepy CGI squirrel. The film isn’t anything to seek out, but if you have a younger kid in your family, they will likely enjoy it and it might get a few laughs out of you as well. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.