The sweet story of a girl and her flying squirrel.
The new Disney+ movie “Flora & Ulysses” is about a flying squirrel, but it’s not a “Rocky & Bullwinkle” spin-off or reboot or anything the studio bought the rights to. Rather it’s based on a children’s book about a comic book kid and superhero squirrel. It’s not a multi-million dollar Marvel movie; rather it’s a family film that distinguishes the real world from reality. It’s neither juvenile nor immature. Maybe it’s awkward at times, but it’s mostly sweet and flexible.
We meet Flora (Matilda Lawler) as a 10-year-old cynic, who gives up on comic book superheroes since they don’t live in the real world. But mostly, it’s because her father George (Ben Schwartz) couldn’t get his comic book published, and no one could save him, which is why he moves out. She then rescues a squirrel from a runaway vacuum cleaner, whom she names Ulysses, not after the god or the 18th President, but after the cleaner.
Meanwhile, her romance novelist mother (Alyson Hannigan) buys herself a typewriter (“Old is the new new,” she says), which has a broken J, but becomes beneficial for the squirrel to prove to Flora he’s special. His near-death experience has given him superpowers that requires him to understand the human language (but not speak it) and fly. That’s when she regains her admiration for superheroes, when she and her father both reconnect, when they seek out a kind doctor (Anna Deavere Smith), when she gains a new human friend-a British kid (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who’s temporally gone blind-and when a new villain emerges.
This adversary doesn’t put on a suit or mask or live in his mother’s basement. Instead, he’s an animal control officer (Danny Pudi), who was demoted after failing to capture the first rabid squirrel during an outbreak. He’s more of a “Home Alone” goof than a fully examined antagonist, especially when he has to deal with a savage cat from George’s apartment. He’s not much of a character you’d be entertained by, but he’s given less time in the movie. Plus, it’s not about him; it’s about the girl and the squirrel, and their connections to comic books and reality.
“Flora & Ulysses” is a good-natured film for kids to understand its connection between family and comic books without them overlapping one another, while the adults can see the value of that. It’s also because of how Lawler is a fine young actress-a fresh newcomer to say the least-who plays Flores with true potential and smart versatility. She’s able to connect with a CGI squirrel that way Jason James Ritcher connected with a real whale in “Free Willy,” as well as Hannigan, Swartz, Ainsworth, and Smith-all of whom provide sensitivity.
It’s not a perfect film, because of some lame jokes about stick-shift cars and door lockings, but as small Disney film, it isn’t consumed with money or millennials or anything that could cater to the new generation’s needs. It has more brains than “Dolittle” did, and it keeps you involved with how the girl’s family will overcome their problems and how the squirrel makes life better for them.
Streaming on Disney+