Flora & Ulysses, the latest live-action book adaptation now streaming on Disney+, centers around the adventures of a young girl Flora (Matilda Lawler) and a squirrel with superpowers Ulysses. I had a chance to attend a discussion with the cast of Flora & Ulysses Alyson Hannigan (How I Met Your Mother), Ben Schwartz (Sonic the Hedgehog), Matilda Lawler (Evil), Danny Pudi (Community), director Lena Khan (The Tiger Hunter), and book author Kate DiCamillo moderated by Nikki Novak of Rotten Tomatoes. The cast discussed what it was like bringing Kate DiCamillo’s 2013 novel Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures to life.
When asked how did the idea of turning a squirrel into a superhero happen Kate responded “it’s-it’s a really long, uh, story. I’m gonna try to make it very, very fast. Um, so, my mom had a vacuum cleaner that she loved and, uh, she passed away in 2009, my mom did. And in the last year of her life, she kept on saying, “What’s gonna happen to the vacuum cleaner when I’m gone?” And I was like, “Why are we worried about the vacuum cleaner? There are bigger things to worry about.” But when she did, I did as I promised her I would do. I-I took the vacuum cleaner, so that it would have a good home, except that my mom had, um, a-a cat-uh, the world’s most evil cat named Mildew a-a-and I’m allergic to cats, and I couldn’t bring the vacuum cleaner into the house because of all the Mildew hair in it, so I had to leave it out in the garage. Every time I pulled into the garage, I would see the vacuum cleaner, and it would make my heart hurt. It would make me miss my mother. Okay. I’m almost-I’m halfway through this story.
Then, the spring after my mother died, um, there was this squirrel on the front steps of my house, draped dramatically across the steps, clearly in distress. And he wouldn’t move when I got close to him and I didn’t know what to do for him. I called one of my best friends who lives a block away. I said, “Help me. There’s a squirrel dying on my front steps.” She said, “Do you have a T-shirt and a shovel?” And I said, “I do.” And she said, “Get the T-shirt, get the shovel. I will come over there and whack him over the head.” That’s what she said. And all of this made me think about, um, E.B. White’s essay, Death of a Pig. How he’s going out to feed a pig and thought about ways to save a pig’s life. II thought about ways to save the squirrel’s life and I combined it with the vacuum cleaner in the garage, and that’s the story.
In order to bring this amazing story to life director Lena Khan had to find the perfect actress to portray Flora. When asked about how it felt being chosen to portray Flora actress Matilda Lawler replied, “I wa-it was-it was insane. So, like-so, Lena-I was-I was in this show, this Broadway show, and I was actually, like, in the middle of the city, huge crowds everywhere, I got a phone call from Lena. And I hold it to my phone and, like, I can barely hear her, and I hear her say, “You wanna be in this movie?” And I’m like, “Yes.”
Creating a film based on a squirrel with superpowers can be very challenging from a directing standpoint. When asked about whether or not real squirrels where used during filming director Lena Khan said, ” We did use-I got to have two squirrels on my laps and they did-they were trained, and they did tricks, but they couldn’t do everything that Ulysses did, so then we kinda just had to create Ulysses.”
While the movie focuses on the growing friendship between Flora & Ulysses, it wouldn’t be a superhero film without our main villain Miller played by Danny Pudi (Community). When asked about the physical comedy that went into his role Danny replied, “ I love physical comedy. I thought that was gonna be really exciting and just kinda fun to dive into this world. And in terms [LAUGH] of the physicality, they would give me pillows to put under my shirt. Sometimes this weird, like, headless squirrel mushy doll to simulate the VFXs what the real squirrel would look like, and then it was just a lot of, like, “Okay. Just kind of run, dance, jerk your head around, and move your body.” And it was like dance, it was just letting go. It looked like I was getting electrocuted a lot, just kinda running around.
Flora and Ulysses is currently streaming on Disney+ and is a must-watch for the entire family.