When you first hear about the upcoming Disney+ film, Flora & Ulysses, you wonder just how Newbury Award-winning author and executive producer Kate DiCamillo came up with the idea of a girl and her superhero squirrel. The film, which premieres this Friday, tells the story of Flora, an avid comic book fan and self-avowed cynic, whose parents have separated. After saving a squirrel after being sucked up by an out-of-control vacuum, Flora names her new furry friend, Ulysses. She discovers, like the comic books, that Ulysses possesses unique superhero powers that help change Flora’s outlook on life for the better.
“Well, it’s really a long story,” laughed DiCamillo during the Flora & Ulysses press conference last week.
DiCamillo shared Flora & Ulysses came from her mother’s vacuum cleaner. Before her mother’s death in 2009, DiCamillo’s mother was worried about what would happen to the vacuum cleaner after she’s gone. DiCamillo made a promise to take care of the vacuum and had it in her 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,” said DiCamillo.
The spring after her mother’s passing, she found a distressed squirrel on the front of her steps of her home. DiCamillo was worried about the squirrel and wanted to help the poor creature. She immediately called her close neighborhood friend for help. DiCamillo’s friend wanted to give the squirrel a quick death to end its pain. Fortunately, the squirrel quickly recovered and ran off before DiCamillo’s friend arrived.
“And all of this made me think about, um, E.B. White’s essay, ‘Death of a Pig,’” said DiCamillo. “How he’s going out to feed a pig and thought about ways to save a pig’s life. II thought about ways to save the squirrel’s life and I combined it with the vacuum cleaner in the garage, and that’s the story.”
The film does add a little more Disney magic with some help from screenwriter Brad Copeland, who added some humor and new family elements. DiCamillo approved of the changes made from the book-to-screenplay.
“I had read Brad’s script and I liked it a lot,” DiCamillo shared. “But, when I sat down and watched the movie, I watched it as my eight-year-old self. I didn’t compare it to the book or anything. I just was so in it that I can’t even. It feels to me like what happened between the script and the cast and the directing is that the themes of the book amplified. And so, the heart is even bigger and the wackiness is even bigger. And also just the power of connection has been amplified. And so, it’s just, whatever is different is more and better. Does that make sense?”
Director Lena Khan loved both the book and screenplay and found the inspiration fun to work with.
“Oh, yeah. Ulysses, I can’t get enough of him,” said Khan. “But 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 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, you know, our lovely cast did.”
Flora & Ulysses premieres next Friday, February 19, on Disney+.