Based on Kate DiCamillo‘s award-winning Novel “Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures“, FLORA & ULYSSES arrives later this month on Disney+.
Flora (Matilda Lawler) is a ten-year-old comic book lover and she’s dealing with her parents George (Ben Schwartz) and Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan) separating. She rescues a squirrel and names it Ulysses, but realizes that it has superpowers. Her keeping Ulysses is a point of contention between her parents. George is in favour of it and Phyllis, a Writer, is against the idea finding the squirrel is impeding with her creativity and career. Ulysses proves to be more than meets the eye and just might be one thing missing in this family’s life.
See the Trailer:
We had the pleasure of attending the international Press Junket for FLORA & ULYSSES. In attendance were the Cast, Director and Author of the Novel on which the Film is based, including:
Kate DiCamillo (Author) Lena Khan (Director) Matilda Lawler
Alyson Hannigan (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, How I Met Your Mother) admits she doesn’t like watching herself, but since her daughters Satyana and Keeva were so excited about this, she watched it together with her family.
Hannigan: “They’ve been asking since the day we wrapped, so it’s been a very, very long wait and we got to see it early. They were so excited! From the moment it started, I sorta forgot that I was even a part of it. Watching them, they were so happy – like laugh out loud, beyond belly laughs! I paused because I was worried they were gonna miss the next scene. My husband and I kept looking at each other saying, ‘It’s so good!’. It was such a new experience not being so critical of myself going ‘Oh, I should’ve done it like that!’ – you know that Actor thing – and just being engrossed in this wonderful Movie.”.
Danny Pudi (DuckTales, Community) plays Miller, the Film’s villain who is in pursuit of Ulysses. He talks to some of the Physical Comedy required of him in the Film, including getting attacked by a cat.
Pudi: “It was a lot of letting go. This was my second time working with Lena, I worked with her on a film called The Tiger Hunter and I put it in my contract that I get to work with her on every film for the rest of her career. She told me this would be a complete departure, there’d be a lot of Physical Comedy involved. I love Physical Comedy and I thought it was going to be really fun diving into this world.”.
“In terms of physicality, they would give me pillows to put under my shirt, sometimes this weird, headless, squirrel mushy doll to simulate what the VFX squirrel would look like, then there was a lot of run, dance, jerk your head around and move your body and it was like dance, just letting go. It looked like I was getting electrocuted a lot. Eventually we found something that looked like I was getting attacked by a cat. Thankfully, I’ve been attacked by a few animals in my life so I used that as prep work.”.
Author DiCamillo talks about the story’s comic book influences.
DiCamillo: “I am a comic book fan but not a traditional comic book fan. What I grew-up with and what I love is Charlie Brown and Peanuts. And I actually still read a Peanuts cartoon every morning. It shaped my childhood and still shapes my sensibility. When I was writing the Book, I had Flora love comic book superheroes. When I turned it in, it didn’t have a superhero in it. My Editor said I’d have to make-up a superhero and I thought I couldn’t do that, but then I did. Then I went back and did some prep work reading-up on superheroes. I did it kinda backwards.”.
DiCamillo is asked how different the Film is from her Novel.
DiCamillo: “It’s not my first experience having my book turned into a movie (She also wrote “The Tale of Despereaux“). You kinda think that’s different and this is different, but that kinda went out the window. I read Brad Copeland’s Script and I liked it a lot, but when I watched the Movie, I watched it as my eight-year-old self. I didn’t compare it to the book or anything. I felt what happened between the Script, the Cast and directing is that the themes of the book are amplified. The heart is even bigger and the wackiness is even bigger. The power of connection has been amplified. Whatever’s different is more and better.”.
FLORA & ULYSSES has a playful energy to it and the Cast are asked how much of the Film was improved versus scripted.
Schwartz: “The Script that Brad wrote was so good. When Lena gives us room to play, it’s always within the boundaries of what that scene is and only if it heightens the emotion or Comedy of the scene, without bringing it somewhere else. Matilda and I improvised a couple times, which was very exciting. We sang a whole song which I believe is still in the Movie.”.
Pudi: “First of all, Ben and I have a lot of history over the past three years fighting as brothers (on DuckTales) so that was very helpful. It was very easy to tase him with a tranquilizer gun. The Script was so good, the world was so fully realized that we’d just play around when we were chasing each other.”.
Schwartz: “Danny’s a straight-up action villain in this. I’m very excited about this!”.
Pudi: “I showed- up to set with twirly mustache thinking they were gonna love this. I’m gonna villain it up! And as soon as I showed up, Lena says ‘Shave it!'”.
Matilda is so incredible. My first scene with her I was like a villain, and she had so much emotion behind her in her eyes. I felt like I was an evil person and I felt so bad, but I also was taken aback, I was in awe of her power on-screen. It was so exciting for me to just be a part of this world.”.
FLORA & ULYSSES reunites Schwartz and Pudi along with their DuckTales Co-Stars Bobby Moynahan and Kate Micucci. Director Khan is asked if this was intentional, along with other “Easter Eggs” in the Film.
Khan: “Yeah, you know after we got the first couple, I said, let’s just go with it! Bobby’s reading a DuckTales comic at the beginning. You then see more ducks with the different colours of their collars matching the colours of Danny‘s office. After a while, we realized that the best gold mine in all of Television is DuckTales.”.
“There’s comic book world references for those who are into those. There’s a lot of DuckTales. There’s a lot of Alyson Hannigan love from the past. There’s Buffy hidden in the background, there’s different books of Kate‘s that are hidden throughout, just lots of treats everywhere.”.
How challenging was it working with computer-generated animals? What were the challenges working with a character who’s not there?
Lawler: “Lena, you were kinda my squirrel at some points. You had this little stuffed animal squirrel that you would pretend was doing the scenes, so I could get an idea of what it would be like. During most of the scenes, I had this grey, creepy rat-like thing that was really creepy and some other times there wasn’t anything and I had to pretend like there was something there when there was nothing. So it was definitely interesting and challenging.”.
Hannigan talks about her process getting into her role and also recalls the furthest extent she’s ever gone into Method Acting.
Hannigan: “I remember having a lot of fun working out the awkward entrance with Ben. Do we hug, do we shake hands? That was really fun to do. I love anything where I get to be awkward. I could’ve just done that all day. Everything we did was just different. I think at one point I felt Ben‘s nose.”.
Schwartz: “There could a weird Supercut of us just trying to say hello to each other.”.
Hannigan: “I guess I’m not as ‘method’ as I should be. I tried a lot of lollipops for this role. Before Buffy, I did a show called Touched by an Angel playing a teen who was going to going to give-up her baby for adoption. It was a drama. So to prepare for the birthing scene, the Doctor on-set said they had a woman who is about to give birth and that I could watch. I was like ‘Uh, okay!?’. I was maybe 20. So I walk into this room and this woman is like in the final stages of labour. And the Doctor was like ‘Come on!” and I’m meeting this stranger, watching her give birth and it was incredible. She also made it look so easy as it wasn’t as dramatic as it should be for a TV Show. She lied. She made it look real easy. And I started bawling and was like “Bye!”. It was like her sixth child!”.
FLORA & ULYSSES arrives on Disney+Friday, February 19, 2021.