“Flora & Ulysses,” the new Disney+ comedy-adventure based on the Newbery Award-winning book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, is about what happens when a ten-year-old rescues Ulysses, a squirrel with a lot of personality who also just might have superpowers.
When self-described cynic and comic book fan Flora (Matilda Lawler), a lonely girl who lives with her romance writer mother (Alyson Hannigan), rescues a squirrel from a neighbor’s robotic vacuum, both their lives are transformed.
Flora, who pines for the days when her parents were together, finds a friend in her new pet. The rodent, who announces his powers by typing, “Squirrel. I am Ulysses. Born anew,” on mom’s old-school Smith Corona, chips away at Flora’s hardened exterior. “Maybe the best part of having a superhero around,” she says, “is how you start to feel like one too.” The unlikely duo, along with Flora’s father (Ben Schwartz), a failed-comic-book-writer who makes ends meet working retail, and temporarily blind neighbor William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) go on adventures despite mom’s disdain for having a squirrel in the house, even one who can write poetry.
“Flora & Ulysses” may be the only kid’s flick to quote intense German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The film’s central message—Flare up like a flame and find your purpose—is paraphrased from Rilke’s abstract “Go to the Limits of Your Longing.” But don’t worry, there’s nothing terribly abstract or heady about the super squirrel story. Director Lena Khan has made a family friendly film that balances comedy, action and even some melancholy.
The superhero in this movie isn’t here to save the world or battle villains from other planets, but the stakes are just as high. Ulysses doesn’t wear spandex or have x-ray eyes, instead he’s a symbol of hope and the power of love in friendship and family. Those are nice messages, well delivered by a game cast, particularly Lawler, who nails her character’s droll humour.
“Flora & Ulysses” is a story about the small, heroic things we can do in day-to-day life. Uplifting and charming, it avoids easy sentiment and there’s even a good “Titanic” joke.