Disney has taken Kate DiCamillo’s 2013 Newbery Award-winning book “Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures” and made it into a second-rate movie (shortened to “Flora & Ulysses”) that will only appeal to kids who have pretty low standards. There’s a cute little girl (Matilda Lawler), a fuzzy squirrel (created from choppy CGI), and a story that throws in a handful of positive life lessons, but the slapdash action scenes, dumb pratfalls, and dull storytelling combine to form a family film with an unredeemable lack of magic.
Flora (Lawler) is an avid comic book fan and cynic, who is having trouble dealing with the fact that her parents (Alyson Hannigan, Ben Schwartz) have recently separated. One day, the 10-year-old girl saves a squirrel who has been sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Flora names her rescued pal Ulysses after she discovers he possesses superhero powers (and can write poetry). The duo go on a series of adventures while avoiding an animal control officer (Danny Pudi) who wants to capture and kill the potentially rabid squirrel.
The film feels like a dated Disney flick, with a simple message that relies heavily on mom and dad style humor. There is a good theme of what being a “true hero” means wrapped up with a couple of platitudes about the importance of family, but the more positive ideas seem buried under the lifeless action scenes (and dopey slow motion) that makes the project barely rise above the lowest quality t.v. movie.
There can’t be an unhappy ending of course, so Ulysses helps Flora fix the broken elements in her life. The little girl hopes her estranged parents will get back together and that her mom will be able to rise above her writer’s block. She wishes humans would treat animals better too, and thankfully her new squirrel buddy convinces most of them that he’s worth saving.
If you or your kids really like squirrels, are very bored, and are easily entertained, then “Flora and Ulysses” may be good enough for family movie night. The film starts out really rough and despite a mild improvement about halfway through, it never gets over the hump of mediocrity.