When Disney+ comes to mind, originals like The Mandalorian and WandaVision pop immediately. Though the streamer has a few other originals that have managed to click with audiences. Great films like Togo or Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made are just sitting there… waiting for fans to enjoy. Conversations around Disney+ have thus far been dominated by Marvel and Star Wars, which is understandably fair, but other gems occasionally slip through the cracks. This week brings such a delightful surprise with Disney+’s latest original, Flora & Ulysses.
Based on the children’s novel of the same name by The Tale of Despereaux author Kate DiCamillo, Flora & Ulysses carries that same heroic and heartwarming charm, but with a different type of rodent at its center. Young girl Flora (Matilda Lawler) befriends a squirrel through a freak accident, leaving the tiny fellow with enhanced strength, intelligence, and flight. A true superhero origin story, but this squirrel isn’t out to save a city or fight crime. Instead, he could be the key in healing Flora’s broken family. The child is stuck between separated parents, both writers but in different fields of genre and success. Mom (Alyson Hannigan) is a prolific Romance author with a career going downhill, while dad (Ben Schwartz) is an aspiring comic-book writer who could never make it uphill.
Easy to cast off as just another kids movie with an animated animal sidekick, Flora & Ulysses beats the stigma by shinning “a sincere light on the power of storytelling.” The worlds of comics and science-fiction play a huge role in the film, as Flora is brought up as an avid reader by her daydreamer dad. References to Spider-Man and Kylo Ren are made, and the movie even opens “with an animated sequence prominently featuring the likes of Ms. Marvel and Wolverine.” The way in which ridiculous superheros or stories on a page can bring people together is the driving force of Flora & Ulysses, making it a solid entry on Disney+.
Director Lena Khan had a blast making the film, this being only her second feature with 2016’s indie comedy The Tiger Hunter. This film may be thematically full of comic-book inspiration, but this was also present on set. In particular, the “Comic Cave” which is the comic shop Flora frequently visits and causes mischief in. She and the obnoxious clerk (Bobby Moynihan) butt heads over comic facts and what not, just like how people do on Twitter! Though with Khan being a comic fan herself, the shop is full of easter eggs for viewers to catch. She went more into context during the film’s official press conference.
“There’s a whole world for just the comic-book nerds. If you’re a comic book person, which you know, I grew up with my brothers… if you go into the Comic Cave, which is the comic book store, there’s a giant penny, which would be in the Batcave originally. You’ll see Mysterio with the goldfish [bowl] over his head. Some people will know who the ventriloquist dummy is – the mobster dummy next to the TV.”
Another interesting tidbit from the film, it’s actually a stealth live-action DuckTales reunion. The new iteration of the Disney classic has quickly developed a dedicated following since its debut in 2017. Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan voice the iconic Huey, Dewey, and Louie. All have been mentioned except for Pudi, who plays a somewhat threatening animal control officer in Flora & Ulysses. Pudi played the leading role in The Tiger Hunter, making this a special reunion for him and Lena Khan. Kate Micucci, who voices Webby Vanderquack in DuckTales, also pops in and shares scenes with Pudi in Disney’s latest.
“Everybody from [DuckTales] is fantastic… we threw in, like, Bobby’s reading the DuckTales comic at the beginning. You’ll see
some ducks with the different colors of their collars matching the characters in Danny’s office. So after a while, we realized that the best goldmine in all of television is DuckTales and we must bring everybody! (Laughs)”
Khan also went as far to include nods to works from star Alyson Hannigan and author Kate DiCamillo.
“There’s a lot of DuckTales things… there’s a lot of Alyson Hannigan love… stuff from Buffy hidden in the background. And then there’s a lot of things, different books of Kate’s that are hidden throughout.”
Catching every nod on screen will definitely inspire many to give Flora & Ulysses another watch, if not for the charming story. There are some great titles on Disney+ just waiting to be explored. If one is already tuning in every week to see the latest Marvel or Star Wars project, why not spare some time to more of their original projects? Flora & Ulysses works especially well with the family or younger siblings. Come for the comic inspiration and vibrant cast, stay for the super-powered squirrel.