Flora & Ulysses, the latest family movie from Disney+ gives me hope that the family movies of my youth have returned!
If you’re a child of the 70s or 80s, you definitely remember the animated classics pulled from the vault every few years. But in between those classics, we gathered around the TV for popcorn films like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (a Kurt Russell classic), The Shaggy D.A., Escape to Witch Mountain, and The Apple Dumpling Gang. These were arguably forgettable movies but fun films for the whole family.
Disney+ is slowly bringing that back. Although I was a reluctant subscriber to their new streaming service, I’ve been impressed with some of the original programming and even cautiously optimistic about their movies, especially after previewing the family-friendly holiday film, Godmothered.
But I’m still a movie critic at heart and as I sat to preview Flora & Ulysses, a comedy-adventure about a little girl and a newly transformed squirrel based on the book of the same name, I wasn’t expecting much.
Precocious little girl? Check.
Adorable little creature? Check.
Fractured family in need of saving? Check
Comical sidekick? Check.
Over the top villain? Check.
Sassy neighbor? Check.
Oh yes. It had all the necessary elements for an eye-rolling clichéd kids movie that the upper elementary crowd would like but parents would have to suffer through.
But I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover and not to judge a film by its potential clichés. Because the elements listed above actually make for a well-constructed storyline and a cast of interesting characters.
Alyson Hannigan (How I Met Your Mother) and Ben Schwartz (Space Force) play the estranged parents of precocious, comic book loving, self-described cynic, Flora, played by Matilda Lawler. And with that description, I expected this movie to follow the trend of making the parents look like bumbling idiots compared to the wise and sassy Flora.
Can you tell I’ve been jaded by a lot of movies?
This kids movie did what others fail to do. They made all of the characters likable and entertaining. They gave them depth and heart and humility. And they did all of that while making it entertaining enough for both kids and parents.
I laughed. (Seriously, there’s a Titanic joke in the movie that made me actually laugh out loud. You’ll know it when you see it). I cried. (Okay, I didn’t actually cry but I did tear up a few times). And I didn’t have to deal with a cute little squirrel voiced by someone jarring, like, say, Danny DeVito.
Ulysses is actually voiced by John Kassir, a voice actor who brings the spirit of the squirrel to life without any actual words. You’ll also probably recognize the “villain” animal warden, played by Danny Pudi (Community). And if William Spiver, the hysterically blind next door neighbor, looks familiar, you might recognize child actor Benjamin Evan Ainsworth from his recent role in The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Everything about this movie works. And while the casting and acting is spot on (Flora might be a little over the top), I give full credit to relatively new director Lena Khan. Heart, humor, and watchability is what she brings to the outstanding family movie.
And even though I quietly sat on my couch watching this on my computer while the rest of my family was in bed, I’ll be rewatching with them (yes, I’m even going to make the 14 year old watch it) whenever we need a fun, light family night.
Flora & Ulysses is streaming on Disney+ starting on February 19th.