With Flora & Ulysses launching on Disney+ February 19, Vital Thrills got a chance to participate in the press conference for the film. Joining the chat was Matilda Lawler, Alyson Hannigan, Ben Schwartz, Danny Pudi, book author Kate DiCamillo and director Lena Khan.
The film is based on the Newbery Award-winning book Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo, about 10-year-old Flora, an avid comic book fan and a self-avowed cynic, whose parents have recently separated.
After rescuing a squirrel she names Ulysses, Flora is amazed to discover he possesses unique superhero powers, which take them on an adventure of humorous complications that ultimately change Flora’s life–and her outlook–forever.
DiCamillo spoke about where the idea came from. She told us that her mother had a vacuum cleaner that she loved, and before she passed away, she was worried about what would happen to it. “I promised her I would — I took the vacuum cleaner so that it would have a good home, except that my mom had a cat — the world’s most evil cat named Mildew and I’m allergic.”
She explained that when she’d see the vacuum, it made her sad, but one day she came home and found a sick squirrel on her front porch. He ended up being fine, but she combined the two things and made a story out of them.
Lawler plays the main character, Flora, and told us that she found out she got the part (which was between over 1000 kids) when the director called her in the middle of New York City where she was doing a Broadway play. “I can barely hear her… and [then] I hear her say, ‘You wanna be in this movie?’ and I’m like, ‘Yes!'”
Khan said that they were really lucky in that most of the fun stuff in the film is set out for them in the books. “We got to play with all kinds of things, and we got to play with stunts off of buildings and car crashes, and then, 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 our lovely cast did… I got to have two squirrels on my lap, and they were trained and they did tricks.”
She said that, of course, the trained squirrels couldn’t do all of it, so they did have to create a CGI squirrel as well. Not only did the set contain little creatures, but there were also snacks everywhere.
Hannigan was asked about those snacks, including her ever-present lollipops. “We did keep a total… I think we stopped around like 37 or something. She said she did love them and was particularly fond of fruit punch.
Pudi spoke about working with Khan. “It’s my second time, so I got to work with her on a film called The Tiger Hunter, 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 this would be a complete departure.
“There would be a lot of physical comedy involved. I love physical comedy – I thought that was going to be really exciting and just kind of 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, headless squirrel mushy doll to simulate the VFXs of what a real squirrel would look like… and then it was just a lot of, okay, just kind of run, dance, jerk your head around and move your body… it looked like I was getting electrocuted a lot.”
DiCamillo told us that while she’s a comic book fan, which led to her lead character’s favorite pastime, she wasn’t really a traditional comic fan. “What I grew up with and what I love is Charlie Brown and the Peanuts. I actually still read a Peanuts cartoon every morning and it’s shaped my whole childhood and it still shapes my sensibility.”
She said that she did have to go read traditional superhero comics for the book, which helped her create the character of Incandesto. “It was really fun,” she said.
Schwartz, who plays Flora’s dad said that he and Pudi in particular had room to improvise, though it wasn’t outrageous. “Lena gives us room to play, but with the knowledge of we’re not going to be like, ‘What’s going on with that dinosaur over there?’ So Danny and I played – I know Matilda and I definitely improvised a couple times, which was very exciting.”
He joked, “We sang a whole song about butts that I believe is still in the movie.” Pudi added a note about Lawler, calling her “incredible.” He said, “My first scene with her, I’m a villain and she has so much emotion behind her eyes, I felt like I was an evil person right away, and I felt so bad.”
He continued, “But I was also just taken – I was in awe of her power on the screen. So, it was so exciting for me to just be a part of this world.”
Khan joked that she was doing a mini-DuckTales reunion with Pudi, Kate Micucci and Schwartz. She even joked about Easter eggs.
“We threw in Bobby’s reading the DuckTales comic at the beginning. You’ll see some ducks with the different colors of their collars matching the characters in Danny’s office – after a while, we realized that the best goldmine in all of television is DuckTales and we must bring in everybody.”
That wasn’t all of the Easter eggs. She said, “There’s a whole world for just the comic book nerds. If you’re a comic book person, which, you know, I grew up with my brothers where, if you go into the Comic Cave, which is the comic book store [in the film]…you’ll see Mysterio with the goldfish thing over his head.
“Some people will know who the ventriloquist dummy is, the mobster dummy, next to the TV… there’s a lot of Alyson Hannigan love, like there’s stuff from Buffy hidden throughout, so there’s lots of treats everywhere.”
Finally, DiCamillo says that she does have a cameo in the film, but she wouldn’t tell us where it was. If you spot it, make sure to tweet us and let us know!
Flora & Ulysses stars Matilda Lawler, Alyson Hannigan, Ben Schwartz, Anna Deavere Smith, Danny Pudi, Benjamin Evans Ainsworth, Janeane Garofolo and Kate McCucci.
The film was directed by Lena Khan and produced by Gil Netter. The screenplay is by Brad Copeland. Katterli Frauenfelder and James Powers served as executive producers.
Are you excited to check out Flora & Ulysses when it hits Disney+ on February 19?
Let us know what you think about the trailer in the comments or tweet us @vitalthrillscom.