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"FLORA & ULYSSES"
(2021) (Matilda Lawler, Ben Schwartz) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy-Adventure: A 10-year-old girl discovers that her rescued pet squirrel has superpowers.
PLOT:

Flora Buckman (MATILDA LAWLER) is a cynical 10-year-old girl who's into superheroes, but realizes there aren't any in real-life. Part of them stems from her parents having split up, with Flora living with her romance novelist mom, Phyllis (ALYSON HANNIGAN). Her dad, George (BEN SCHWARTZ), an aspiring but yet-to-be published comic book creator, has moved out and now works in an office supply store.

Flora's life changes when she saves the life of an otherwise regular looking squirrel and decides to name him Ulysses. She keeps that secret from her mom -- along with the fact that the squirrel seems to have superpowers -- but not a neighbor's nephew, William Spiver (BENJAMIN EVAN AINSWORTH), who's currently suffering from a temporary loss of vision caused by emotional stress. She soon lets her dad in on the secret, but when Ulysses ends up displaying some of that, he accidentally creates havoc in a diner.

All of which results in false reports that he's rabid and then animal control officer Miller (DANNY PUDI) on the case to capture the squirrel. With Flora and her friends and family trying to prevent that, the girl hopes that maybe Ulysses will somehow bring her parents back together again.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

Like many a kid back when I was growing up in the 1960s and '70s and probably a slew of others in the intervening years up through today, I was a fan of comic books. Accordingly, I created some of my own, and can vividly recall -- despite the passage of far too many laps around the great big bright blob in the sky -- sitting in the backyard one day with friends coming up with new superhero characters.

Yet, despite their daily presence in our environs and notwithstanding having selected pretty much everything else in sight in a hurried land grab sort of fashion of picking names -- ranging from "The Incredible Shed" to "Captain Dirt'' -- I don't recall anyone selecting a squirrel for superhero duties.

Cats, dogs, spiders, snakes, birds and pretty much any and all insects? Sure. But the scampering rodents with bushy tales somehow didn't make the cut. Nothing against them. That's just how it goes sometimes. Author Kate DiCamillo apparently felt differently as she opted to select the small mammal for her 2013 children's novel "Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures." That work has now been turned into a live-action movie with the truncated title, "Flora and Ulysses."

While I haven't read DiCamillo's work, this adaptation by screenwriter Brad Copeland and director Lena Khan seems fairly faithful to the source material and should entertain younger viewers, even if squirrels might not be their first choice for superheroes either.

The furry rodent here is Ulysses who otherwise seems like a normal squirrel until he's run over by and sucked up into an out-of-control Roomba sort of automated vacuum cleaner that's made its way outside. Pulled lifeless from the device, he's given a second chance thanks to the CPR heroics of 10-year-old Flora (a winning Matilda Lawler) who's already let us know that while she enjoys reading comic books featuring superheroes, she's given up hope that they exist in the real world.

Beyond having a cynical nature about her, most of that likely stems from the splitting of her parents, with the girl still living with her romance novelist mom, Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan), while her unpublished comic book creator dad, George (Ben Schwartz), has moved out, given up his creations, and now works in a big box office supply store. Flora still imagines seeing the superheroes he created, but they can't seem to help her.

Enter Ulysses whose new powers are willed into existence by the girl or, at the very least, have somehow been activated by his near-death vacuum cleaner experience. She informs him that he must use them for good and he seems to understand, but since he still speaks only Squirrel, he types out somewhat poetic messages on Phyllis' typewriter and eventually shows off his amazing physical abilities. Naturally, Flora doesn't want her mom to know, but a neighbor's young nephew -- William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), who's suffering from "hysterical blindness" (loss of vision due to emotional trauma) but behaves in a very proper and calm way -- quickly ascertains the situation.

Of course, Flora can't keep the superhero squirrel secret from her dad, but a resultant chaotic event at a diner creates fears of rabies among those not in the know. Enter animal control officer Miller (Danny Pudi) who, in pure half-bumbling, half-menacing cartoon fashion, becomes the villain who wants to get his hands on the rodent. All of which results in kid-friendly comedy, action, chaos and ultimately a rescue plan to save the squirrel.

Thankfully avoiding the screechy sort of aura that some kid-based entertainment has adults equating to nails down the blackboard, the offering moves along at a good clip and should prove to be fun entertainment for the youngsters.

It's nothing tremendous, but it has good messages and some profound moments that set it apart from mindless offerings that only go for frenetic slapstick and body function humor. While I don't know if it will have kids putting such bushy-tailed critters into the comic books they dream up, it's decent enough that "Flora and Ulysses" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 22, 2021 / Posted February 26, 2021


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