A super-powered squirrel named Ulysses is the hero of this funny, sweet comedy based on the book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo and K.G. Campbell.
The movie, now on Disney+, stars newcomer Matilda Lawler as 10-year-old Flora, who comes to the rescue of a squirrel after he is sucked into a robo-vacuum. He appears to be dead, but Flora performs CPR on the little guy and he comes back to life. She soon realizes he’s no ordinary squirrel. He doesn’t talk, but he can type! And he can fly… maybe?
Thanks to her father George (Ben Schwartz)’s comic books, Flora knows all heroes have a purpose, and tries to help Ulysses find his. All while keeping him a secret from her mother Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan), a romance novelist who’s under pressure to produce her new book. Especially because George, who’s given up creating comics, is barely making ends meet at an office supply store.
Phyllis and George are separated, but Flora isn’t scheming to get them back together. As she explains in voiceover, it’s better to be cynical and accept things as they are, rather than get your hopes up.
The comedy is big and bold: Ulysses nearly destroys a café after a waitress starts screaming her head off at the sight of him. The action, and the laughs, are just the right sort of cartoonish, with doughnuts flying towards the screen and Flora, Dad and Ulysses making a hasty getaway amidst the chaos.
The villain in this story is an animal control officer (Danny Pudi) determined to capture the “rabid” squirrel — and avoid a mean stray cat called Mr. Claws. While those scenes are fairly broad and slapsticky, the rest of the film runs along nicely on the chemistry of the cast and great physical comedy from Schwartz, who takes more than one tranquilizer dart meant for Ulysses.
Along for the ride is Benjamin Evan Ainsworth (bad boy Miles from “The Haunting of Bly Manor”) as William, who’s suffering from hysterical blindness, a situation that’s played for maximum laughs.
Ulysses himself is adorable, very smart, and more than a little naughty. He loves doughnuts, pop tarts and other things he shouldn’t eat. (The CGI on the film was finished during the pandemic and Ulysses is a very cute, fully realized character. Mr. Claws is rendered in less loving detail, but then he is one of the film’s villains.)
Do Ulysses’ adventures bring Phyllis and George back together? Does Phyllis get her writing mojo back? Does George start writing and drawing comics again? Does Ulysses realize his full power and save the day in epic fashion? And does William finally get his sight back at a hilarious moment?
Even if you know the answers to all those questions, this is a fun ride with genuine laughs and, dare I say, it, heart. It’s a perfectly lovely family film.
Rating: 3 out of 4 paws