Disney: FLORA & ULYSSES Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Disney: FLORA & ULYSSES Review

Squirrel Girl or just plain nuts?
Drawing inspiration from their acquired library of franchises, Disney's latest live action film, Flora & Ulysses, is perfect family film night fodder, with a great ensemble cast and a stand-out young actress.

A furry twist on the superhero genre, Flora & Ulysses sees a common squirrel obtain super powers after a close encounter with a runaway automatic vacuum. So begins the origin tale of Ulysses and the girl who befriends him after rescuing and resuscitating the little woodland creature from the suction brushes of death. Like any good superhero, Ulysses comes into cynical 10 year old Flora Buckman's life at exactly the right time, just as she really needs to discover some hope in her young world. With her parents separated and family facing hardship, she escapes into her comic books. Until the little squirrel makes her, and the rest of her family, look-up, look at each other, come together and find a new and positive perspective for their future.
Newcomer Matilda Lawler is wonderful as Flora, displaying the perfect level of 10-year old comic book nerd without being Hollywood stereotypical of one. Coming across as older than her years, Lawler manages to avoid the precociousness that such a role could easily dip into whilst still feeling very much like a troubled child who wants nothing more than her family back together but understands the reality of her situation. Her parents, played by Alyson Hannigan and Ben Schwartz are also really well cast in their roles. It's a great part for Schwartz especially, and a more subtle, melancholy role than he usually plays. Displaying, without ever really thrusting into the face of the target family audience, the mental health struggles that some middle aged men may face when life doesn't work out how they planned and their talent isn't enough to make ends meet. Hannigan does on occasions dip into the 'unaware sit-com mum' trope but in the large part conveys the burden of financial responsibility she carries without the relationship support she needs to succeed. This all makes Flora & Ulysses sound quite heavy, which it is not in the slightest, but I feel that having underlying themes like this helps to ground the potential insanity of a film about a superhero squirrel.

And this might just be the one area that I feel could've been handled differently. Without wishing to spoil anything, Ulysses does indeed have superpowers. But with the exception of one or two scenes, the super-instances that happen could potentially be explained through down to earth or alternate phenomena. Others could've been tweaked to give the impression of superpowers from Flora's perspective only. I'm aware the film is based on a book of the same name, which I have not read so I do not know how close to the source material it remains, but I wonder if just having Flora believe in Ulysses and his super abilities, rather than actually showing them, might've been a better way to go? An innocent belief in the magical being the hinge to heal the adults who have long forgotten to live their dreams? Ultimately I wonder if that belief in magic might have been more rewarding than actually seeing magic occur.
Regardless of this, Flora & Ulysses is packed with easter eggs for fans of the superhero genre, particularly Marvel Comics and the MCU (I can only imagine how much restraint it took to not include a reference to Squirrel Girl!). There are also a couple of nice nods to Star Wars as Disney+ remind you of the many strings in their streaming bow. As a film made for the service, it clearly doesn't have the budget of either of those franchises mentioned but Ulysses the squirrel is well-enough realised through CGI. Unfortunately a rather psychotic cat is not as well depicted. Adequate if not exceptional would be fair assessment of the effects.

Flora & Ulysses also features a strong supporting cast, most notable being Community's Danny Pudi in a bad-guy/comic-relief role. There's also a strong turn from another youngster, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who is afflicted with hysterical blindness, and a well-cast Bobby Moynahan and Kate Micucci as a comic-book store owner and donut diner waitress respectively. A near-blink and you'll miss her Janeane Garofalo is criminally underused, given her talent, in a bit-part that could've been played by anyone.

Flora & Ulysses then is a fun, funny and heartwarming movie, and at just an hour and a half doesn't overstay its welcome. It's likely one of the strangest superhero origin stories you'll ever see, but with its strong cast, outstanding young lead actress, prominent real-life themes which help to offset and ground the fantastical elements, and loads of geeky references to comic book franchises, make it a perfect film for family viewing.

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