Superheros are often revered by audiences for providing a beacon of hope when the entire universe seems to be engulfed in darkness. The DC and Marvel universes are well known for their myriad of superheroes, and Disney adds “Flora and Ulysses” to the superhero list. Based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, the film brings a new member to the superhero medium with a not so tragic backstory: a squirrel. Despite having great performances, the film is an altogether disarray, suggesting Disney’s running out of ideas.
With a dad (Ben Schwartz) struggling to write his next hit superhero comic book and dealing with her parents’ separation, Flora (Matilda Lawler) adopts a pessimistic nature and loses hope. She begins to find that spark again when she meets Ulysses, a squirrel with superpowers, and develops a newfound mission to help Ulysses find his path as a superhero. Ulysses is threatened by Officer Miller (Danny Pudi), an animal control officer who believes the squirrel has rabies and seeks to eliminate him. To safeguard Ulysses, Flora unites with her father, George Buckman, and her friend (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), in an effort that also guides her to bolster relationships with loved ones.
The film attempts to appeal to the audience with childlike aspects that only work to an extent. It transitions from reality to showcasing comic book pages as Flora narrates the story, which works to create a fun experience. CGI is also effectively used to create realistic, goofy animals, such as Ulysses, and isn’t over the top. However, the dry humor and terrible jokes make for a less entertaining experience and do not mix well with Flora’s tragic life. You’d expect the film to be a fun-filled journey, considering there’s a superhero, but a depressing aura looms from the struggles Flora’s parents undergo. Other Disney superhero movies, such as “The Incredibles,” offer a more thrilling experience with a balance between family and heroism, but “Flora and Ulysses” is quite the opposite and ultimately falls short.
“Flora and Ulysses” embodies a storyline that hangs by a thread. The main aspect of the film is portraying Ulysses as a superhero, but his abilities are hardly explored. For example, there are several scenes of Ulysses merely getting himself into trouble and eating. This forces Flora to regularly come to Ulysses’ rescue and save him from Officer Miller and her disapproving mother, Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan).
The film incorporates the typical tragic backstory of superheroes through Flora’s family struggles, which would work only if she was the hero rather than Ulysses. Thus, the film seems to forget who the superhero actually is. There are not many heroic acts going on until the very end when the film transitions to display comic book pages of Ulysses performing good deeds. As if it wasn’t already in shambles, the story goes off on several tangents as it explores a dysfunctional family without even fleshing out its main heroic aspect.
“Flora and Ulysses” also has pockets of ambiguity as it rushes to implement themes in its story. For example, Flora is upset by her parents who are clearly struggling throughout the film, but her feelings don’t have much of an effect on their relationship. It is obvious the film fails at creating a balanced structure to succeed in its endeavors.
Despite the feeble storyline, some performances are notable. Lawler effectively depicts the emotional toll parental separation can have on a child by delivering emotionally compelling lines. Burdened by family troubles, she is seen shedding tears and expressing her hopelessness, thus developing empathy in the audience. Flora also envelopes decent character development as she transforms from a cynic to regaining excitement upon encountering Ulysses. Though there isn’t much chemistry between Schwartz and Hannigan, Schwartz and Lawler work seamlessly together and possess a warm connection that radiates on screen. Pudi as the villain is a great comedic addition to the cast as his character always finds himself in some sort of trouble and gets into amusing fights with animals.
“Flora and Ulysses” bounces between multiple topics, neglecting to concentrate on the superhero of the story. There are a few good performances, but they’re not worth sitting through a plot that leads the audience in too many different directions. The childlike aspects applied are not sufficient to recover the largely disorganized storyline.
Verdict: “Flora and Ulysses” is a disappointing watch that fails to appeal to a larger audience, as most Disney movies do. The unorganized storyline and the ignoring of its superhero arc make it a difficult film to get through.