Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Matilda Lawler, Alyson Hannigan, Ben Schwartz, Danny Pudi, Anna Deavere Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Kate Micucci, Bobby Moynihan, Nancy Robertson
Written by: Brad Copeland, based on a novel by Kate DiCamillo
Directed by: Lena Khan
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild action and thematic elements
Running Time: 95
Date: 02/19/2021
IMDB

Flora & Ulysses (2021)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Girl Meets Squirrel

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Debuting Friday on Disney+, Lena Khan's Flora & Ulysses is fairly typical second-tier Disney, complete with most of the annoyances attributed to such a thing, but it also demonstrates a decent amount of charm and spirit.

Adapted from the book by children's author Kate DiCamillo — whose works inspired the movies Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of DespereauxFlora & Ulysses tells the story of ten-year-old, self-described cynic Flora (Matilda Lawler).

She loves comic books — Marvel comics exist in this world — but she also laments the fact that no superheroes ever appear in real life.

Her father, George (Ben Schwartz), is an unsuccessful comic book creator, having written and drawn the adventures of "Incandesto," which Flora lovingly devoured, but no one would buy.

Now George works for an office supply store, and is separated from Flora's mother, Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan), a romance novelist.

Preparing for her new book, Phyllis has purchased an antique typewriter, but is totally blocked and can't even begin working.

Meanwhile, Flora rescues a CGI squirrel from a renegade robot vacuum, decides to keep him and names him Ulysses.

Apparently Ulysses' trip through the vacuum and his near-death experience left him with powers. He can type on the typewriter, leaving delightful little poems, and before long he will demonstrate other cool abilities.

Most of the movie consists of keeping him hidden from Phyllis and away from an Animal Control officer (Danny Pudi), who harbors a special hatred for squirrels and fires tranquilizer darts willy-nilly.

A pretty funny character called William Spiver (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), an English boy who has apparently stressed himself out into a state of hysterical blindness, helps.

Flora & Ulysses includes any number of crash-bang slapstick scenes as Ulysses constantly looks for food, tips things over, and messes things up. But these are generally quick and painless, and aided immeasurably by the fact that Ulysses does not talk.

Small annoyances include tons of "needle drops," with a range of songs by Bon Iver, OK Go, Bill Withers, Tom Jones, etc. that seem stamped from a template.

Very blatant product placements feature Ulysses snacking on Pop-Tarts and M&M's, and Marvel imagery is on display everywhere. (Look quick for a hidden Captain America shield!)

But the most troubling flaw is the movie's treatment of non-white characters.

Aside from Pudi as the squirrel-hating villain, Anna Deavere Smith turns up as George's neighbor, who helps the heroes in several scenes without even so much as a thanks; she even lets them drive away with her car! She comes across as nothing more than a doormat.

The movie's lone Asian character is a mean newspaper reporter who stalks out of an interview with Phyllis, determined to write a smear piece on the struggling author.

As directed by Khan (The Tiger Hunter), however, the movie zips by pleasantly, and makes a nice rainy-day distraction. The final scene between our two title heroes should leave most hearts warm.

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