‘Flora & Ulysses’ redefines what is ordinary

Photo of Flora & Ulysses
Walt Disney Pictures/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

“Do not hope; instead, observe.” Flora Buckman’s motto resonates with an audience of all ages. Often, people build up walls and lower their aspirations to evade disappointment and diminish their vulnerability. Disney’s “Flora & Ulysses” departs from the typical fantastical style to explore how humanity’s increased reliance on cynicism as a form of protection has resulted in a lacking worldly understanding shrouded by fear.

Self-proclaimed cynic Flora (Matilda Lawler) is forced to face reality in this adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s novel. While trying to help her neighbor prevent a rogue vacuum from wreaking havoc on the block, Flora witnesses a squirrel, Ulysses (John Kassir), succumb to the suction. After discovering Ulysses possesses the capability to read and type, Flora becomes determined to help him find his purpose. The journey to help Ulysses flourish into a full superhero ultimately leads Flora and her family to find meaning in their own lives and open up to new possibilities.

One of the biggest triumphs of “Flora & Ulysses” is how it inspires children to reexamine their role in the universe in a real-world setting. By watching Ulysses interact with modern American paraphernalia, including a fruit rollup, a Newton’s cradle and a roller skate, the viewer is offered the chance to reconsider what meaning these objects may hold and new ways to use them in their own life. The excellent set design and props played a principal role in pushing this metaphor forward. Furthermore, the use of computer-generated images, or CGI, to create Ulysses intensified the realism of the film. While the decision to center the entire plot around a squirrel may appear odd, DeCamillo’s ingenious idea emphasizes the importance of finding beauty in everyday things.

Sprinkled with scenes of comedic relief, the movie introduces a conflict between Flora’s father George Buckman (Ben Schwartz) and Miller (Danny Pudi), an animal control officer intent on capturing Ulysses. Schwartz and Pudi’s comedic talents shine through some cheap shots at humor such as a car door flying off and a “hysterically blind” boy running into obstructions. Between George’s tendency to get shot by tranquilizers and Miller’s frenzied battle with a hyper-realized cat, their characters allow for viewers to repose from the deeper meaning of the film at times.

By mirroring Ulysses’ own development with that of Flora’s, the movie also implies how interconnected the world is. Although people tend to think they function independently and can overpower nature, “Flora & Ulysses” shows that they are still subject to the same forces that govern all species. The emphasis on becoming more aware of your surroundings is one of the film’s most important tenets — designed to inspire young viewers, “Flora & Ulysses” takes on the challenge of encouraging today’s youth to develop a stronger appreciation for nature and elements of the world beyond their personal bubble.

Flora and her family’s implicit journey to rediscover their universe ultimately becomes exhausting. The movie’s timing is completely unbalanced: While the first 40 minutes feel like the audience is pulled along a path with no end in sight, the second half takes on too much in too little time. An overwhelming amount of conflict piles up: Both parents face difficulties with their jobs, Flora feels against the universe, Ulysses is unsure of his purpose and Miller ineffectually tries to trap Ulysses. Further, as the film struggles to resolve the various difficulties each character faces, the scenes keep jumping around in an attempt to focus on the different issues, forcing the story line to become muddled. Rushed and difficult to follow, “Flora & Ulysses” slowly loses its deeper meaning as it struggles to wrap up all of its loose ends before the closing credits.

“Flora & Ulysses” is a refreshing take on transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, albeit a tad cumbersome. The movie prompts its viewers to remember how their own “origin stories” and development influenced their perspective of the world today. Although her journey may have been long, Flora’s rediscovery of fauna sparks her and her family to life.

Contact Sejal Krishnan at [email protected].