Disney’s next superhero family comedy adventure is Flora & Ulysses, based on the children’s book, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Newbery Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo. Unlike the other movies that showcase people given powers, Flora & Ulysses is about discovering the power within, the power family and the power of a squirrel.
In celebration of their movie adaptation, DiCamillo joined the movie’s cast and director in a press conference that explores the inspiration behind the movie and the book, what it was like to work with animals, nailing physical comedy and more.
“My mom had a vacuum cleaner that she loved,” DiCamillo says. “She passed away in 2009. In the last year of her life she kept saying ‘What’s going to happen to the vacuum cleaner when I’m gone?’ I was like, why are we worrying about the vacuum cleaner? There are bigger things to worry about. When she died, I took the vacuum cleaner so it would have a good home.”
“Except that my mom had a cat. The world’s most evil cat named Mildew, 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 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.”
“The Spring after my mother died there was this squirrel on the front steps of my house, draped dramatically across the steps, clearly in distress. He wouldn’t move when I got close to him. I didn’t know what to do. I called one of my best friends, who lives a block away, and said, ‘Help me, there’s a squirrel dying on my front steps.’ She said, ‘Do you have a tee-shirt and a shovel?’ I said, “I do.” She said, ‘Get the tee-shirt, get the shovel, I will come over there and whack him over the head.’ And all of this made me think about 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 squirrel’s life, and I combined it with the vacuum cleaner in the garage, and that’s the story.”
Director Lena Khan chimed in, “The blueprint for most of the stuff that happened is in the book, so we were kinda lucky there. Apparently, crazy things like vacuum cleaners and everything end up in Kate’s home. We got to play with all kinds of things and we got to play with, you know, stunts off of buildings and car crashes and then, like-it’s just kind of written in Kate’s brain and our writer Brad Copeland’s brain, who wrote for Arrested Development. So, he put all that kind of weirdness and fun into the movie, and then it was just kind of making it all weird, which, you know, our lovely cast did. So, it was a lotta fun just kinda making things a little crazier.”
In the delight film, Flora, a fan of comic books and a self-proclaimed critic is thrust into her own adventurous tale a near-fatal accident between an ordinary squirrel and a rogue household appliance grants Flora her own superhero, Ulysses, a bushy-tailed wonder with super strength, intelligence and — “holy unanticipated occurrences!” — the ability to fly.
Flora is captivating, as is her world, full of costumes and capes; sees heroes soar past her on the street, and in a blink her world changes from 3-D to whimsical 2-D comic illustrations. There’s a plethora of laughs for both adults and children that combines quick banter and physical comedy.
“I was a huge fan of Three’s Company. Um, working with Lena, it’s my second time. So, I got to work with her on a film and I put into my contract that I’d work with her on every film she does for the rest of her career. She told me that this would be a complete departure. There’d be a lotta physical comedy involved. I love physical comedy. I thought that was gonna be really exciting and just kinda fun to dive into this world. And in terms 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. And eventually, we found something that looked like I was getting attacked by a cat, but I-it was-it was
all [in here]. Technically, I’ve been attacked by a few animals in my life, so I used that as my acting prep work,” Danny Pudi.
“Lena was so great about establishing everybody’s physicality with their characters during rehearsal and everything. I remember having a lot of fun trying to work out the awkward entrance with Ben, ‘like, do we hug? Do we shake hands?’ And that was really fun to do. I love anything where I get to be awkward. And I could’ve honestly just done that all day. Everything we did was just sort of different. I really enjoyed it,” Alyson Hannigan.
“For her it’s very fun to act and stuff. Like, Alyson has been in so much comedy and she’s been doing such great stuff for so long. It’s so fun for that moment to to try to find it with her and with Lena. We literally tried 1,000 there could be a weird super cut of us weirdly trying to say hello to each other,” Ben Schwartz added.
Flora & Ulysses will stream on Disney+ on February 19th.
Check out our video above for the full press conference.