This offbeat book-based film is as silly as you might expect from the premise, but it also packs a sneaky emotional punch. If you find yourself shedding a tear over the fate of, yes, a squirrel, chalk it up to the flawless, adorable animation of Ulysses and a mostly commanding performance by Lawler as the outwardly clever but inwardly despondent Flora. She's entirely convincing as a 10-year-old who's holding things together while her parents fall apart. You know she shouldn't be in that position -- any more than she should be sitting in the front seat of her dad's new sports car -- but that's part of the zaniness and also the weightiness of the role. Flora pulls her family back together through the strength of her conviction ... in a magic squirrel. Whether her story is real or imagined, well, that's up to you to decide. But it's the characters' own belief in magic that helps them rediscover their hope, confidence, and path forward.
Following Flora & Ulysses' use of superhero metaphors, Flora herself isn't unlike her dad's creation, the superhero Incandesto, whose light saves souls from the darkness of despair. The gold-clad Incandesto (Darien Martin), who regularly pops up to cheer Flora on, is just one more quirky but likable character in the cast, which also includes William, a dry, formal chap who has an unexplained British accent and blindness that turns out to be (as he says) "hysterical," and the squirrel-obsessed/tranquilizer-happy animal control agent Miller, whose mania recalls Bill Murray in Caddyshack. As these two character descriptions may imply, the film doesn't seem particularly concerned with contemporary political correctness. This -- together with throwback references drizzled throughout and a zippy soundtrack that includes classics from Tom Jones, MC Hammer, and Cat Stevens -- adds up to give Flora & Ulysses a somewhat retro feel.