Flora & Ulysses, unfortunately, doesn’t quite blow the lid off the cute animal movie sub-genre but it does give it a fresh coat of kooky paint.
Flora & Ulysses (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on April 9, 2021
Rating 3 /5
Flora & Ulysses was a film that I was fully expecting to be a forgettable Disney retread into the cute animal category of films. Akin to their genre-starter of Air Bud, I fathomed from the trailers and press release that Flora would be a plucky girl who is astounded that the squirrel Ulysses is capable of far more than scavenging for nuts. While this sort of plotting does come to be, it’s astonishing just how absurd such a film is willing to go for a laugh, far more than the predictable slapstick that comes standard with animal movies.
Flora (Matilda Lawler) is a cute enough kid to root for with her love of comic books, her encouraging nature, and her love of furry creatures. Her parents are currently split and her mom is struggling to keep her cool with drinks at dinner, yet Flora continues on in hopes that her mom and dad will get back together. This seems highly likely given how ridiculously creative the two happen to be. Flora’s dad (Ben Schwartz) is a comic book artist who was frustrated his work wasn’t selling and her mother (Alyson Hannigan) is an erotic novelist who hasn’t found her inspiration for the next book.
I immediately found myself infatuated with Flora’s mother and her many odd books. There’s one simple bit that made me laugh where Flora makes mention of one of her mom’s worst books: a ghost romance where a woman falls in love with a ghost and has ghost children! And there’s a cover for this book. It’s such a brilliant moment of evoking some hilarity from a profession. And it only gets more wild from there.
Flora has a boy she teams up with but he’s hindered by being stricken with hysterical blindness. Flora finds herself hallucinating a superhero of her father’s creation for inspiration. Then there’s Danny Pudi as the required animal control agent who has nothing better to do than track down the pesky squirrel of Ulysses. Sure, he’s there to be absurd and present for the animals to attack him, but he’s also posed as a sexy detective the way women fall in love with him and a saxophone theme song. Having seen a lot of these goofy animal movies with this obligatory character type, I’ve never seen one posed in such an off-the-wall manner to be more than just a standard silly antagonist.
I’m more astounded by the comedic touches than the movie itself. This is mainly because the story isn’t all that impressive. Flora’s mission to prove that Ulysses is smart and that her parents can get back together arrives right on schedule, to the point where Ulysees’s superpowers in the climax don’t feel so left-field given all the oddness that followed the film. The climax itself will also take place at an animal shelter so that there’s plenty of opportunities for Pudi to get trapped in a cage and attacked by other animals.
Flora & Ulysses, unfortunately, doesn’t quite blow the lid off the cute animal movie sub-genre but it does give it a fresh coat of kooky paint. For fulfilling all the tropes that seem to almost be a law for family-targeted movies involving animals, the comedic touches are a charming mixture of weirdness and sincerity. The film never quite takes off fully with these creative touches but the fact that such writing is even present is an enormous step up in quality for films that seem so reliant on animal hijinks to carry the kids for a feature-length running time.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.