“Flora & Ulysses” represents the kind of hope that the world needs in a time of confusion and frustration, which is what we need considering what is happening right now. While it may all feel a bit familiar, the film takes a superhero approach to tell a resonating story about staying optimistic when all seems lost. Based on Kate DiCamillo’s book of the same name, the film adaptation centers on a girl named Flora (Matilda Lawler) who befriends a squirrel named Ulysses, who appears to have some superpowers after a traumatic accident with a runaway robot vacuum. Her friendship with this superpowered squirrel helps her navigate through a difficult time as her parents (Alyson Hannigan and Ben Schwartz) are going through a separation.
For DiCamillo, what is most surprising about seeing her work on Disney+ is that the book that it is based on got published in the first place. “There is a part of me that is still surprised to have it become a book. What you do is you sit alone in a room, and you write these words, and then they go out as a book, and people connect with it,” she said. “This where this strange little story I told goes out and becomes something people are looking at. It’s wonderful, but it is also disconcerting. Allison and I were talking about this, and this seems doubly loaded and meaningful to me to have this movie go out in this time because it is so much about love, connection, and the superpower of connecting and laughter.”
“When I watched it, I felt like I wasn’t making any kind of critical decisions. I was in it totally as my eight-year-old-self. And my first thought when it was over, I want to see it again,” DiCamillo added. “And that is a wonderful position for me to be in as the person who wrote the book. But it is even a better position for me to be in as a human being.”
In Flora & Ulysses, Flora’s mother is a romantic novelist who is currently suffering from writer’s block. Though she doesn’t add any of herself into the film intentionally, DiCamillo does engage in some self-deprecating humor. “There isn’t at all, except maybe when I think about it, I think, subconsciously, I might be poking fun at my own pretentiousness because I tend to be precious about how I work, like, ‘it has to be before I talk to anybody,’ those kinds of things,” she said. “Flora’s mother is like ‘I’m writing. I’m writing,” so maybe I am making fun of myself in a way I never realized before, which is good. It’s better for me to make fun of myself than somebody else to make fun of me.”
The one thing that DiCamillo is admittedly embarrassed about is the number of animal protagonists that she uses in all of her books. For her, it’s gotten to a point where she cannot answer as to why she always has one. But she did try to give an honest answer to it. “It’s an embarrassing amount of animals that I have used in books, and I am still not very good at answering the question, but I am going to try. First, there is the fact that I love animals, and that’s when I feel safe, is around animals,” she said, citing books like Paddington, Stuart Little as works that make her feel like a kid. “And this is kind of a simple answer, and I don’t use it cynically at all, I only see it after the fact, I feel like for all of us, for kids and adults, as readers, we are much more likely to let down our emotional guard when there is an animal involved. It’s funny because I watched the trailer for the movie, so many times to cheer myself up, and I could watch myself doing it with the squirrel, and your heart opens up. It happens in a book too. You just let your emotional guard down. It’s a fast track into the reader’s heart or the watcher’s heart, particularly when the squirrel is cute. “
And Hannigan got to feel like an eight-year-old fangirl getting to work with Kate. “I was such a geek, and she was so gracious about it, and I still feel like that being here with her,” she said during the virtual interview. “I am so in awe of her talent, and my kids have grown up with her books. The takeaway, and it’s not just because she is sitting in the room, to get to meet somebody we’ve loved for so long, and she is like she is better than you could have imagined.”
While Ulysses is a superpowered squirrel, unlike any person has ever seen, he has one thing in common with the animal kingdom: he is an animal that can bring a family together and help someone going through a difficult time. So even though he can communicate and fly and leap, his real superpower is being in the moment. This is why DiCamillo says her dog’s superpower is just being a dog. “I have a dog, and she is not here right now because she doesn’t like me talking to anybody but her. Her name is Ramona, and she already has her superhero power, which is she’s a dog,” she said. “That is everything that is superheroic in a dog, even when they are being terrible. They are always right in the moment. Now is now. And it is such a wonderful reminder for me all the time about this is it right now. It’s that unconditional love. So she already has that superpower. She doesn’t need to have one.”
Jokes aside, the film has strong messages of hope and love, which Hannigan believes we can all use right now in a time that is either dark or difficult to understand. “What I love most about this [‘Flora and Ulysses’] is the message of hope, especially now in this time. For me, hope and love is everything. But when it’s really dark and hard, I just cling to hope with everything I can. So, I just love it doesn’t shy away from reality,” she said. “Things get hard, people get distracted, and they lose track of where their focus should be. And then it takes a superhero squirrel to teach you what you should be focused on. I just love that it is so relatable and real. Phyllis is flawed. She is doing the best she can, but she lost focus. I love it. I love the book, and I love the movie.”
As for the film itself, DiCamillo believes that the changes taken from the pages to the screen are what make the “Flora & Ulysses” film adaptation better than the source material. Speaking about how Hannigan’s Phyllis is different from the one in the book, the author said:
“She is much warmer, and this is one of those things. The movie, in one of those rare instances, is better than the book. And that is one of the places where it’s better, because it humanizes Phyllis more. And it amplifies everything that is good about the book. It amplifies the hope. It amplifies the love. It amplifies the humor. It also takes some of the harsher edges off. It’s a wonderful point about being different.”
“Flora & Ulysses” debuts on Disney+ on February 19, 2021.
Watch Flora & Ulysses Trailer here: