Flora & Ulysses was burdened with bringing a super squirrel to life to tell its story in the form of a Disney+ movie. This is not simply in the sense of Matilda Lawler's Flora as to literally bring the squirrel back to life but in the sense of creating its presence on set. After all, squirrels are probably difficult animals to train as actors! As it turns out, the set of Flora & Ulysses did not see any person hobbling around like Sean Gunn on the sets of Guardians of the Galaxy movies to bring Rocket Raccoon to life but, instead, saw an added calls for use of the cast's imagination and the filmmaker abilities to add Ulysses to the movie!
"A lot of the time, there was nothing there," Lawler explained, and se would know well, too. Lawler's Flora is inseparable from this heroic squirrel which is having its story adapted from a Kate DiCamillo book to a live-action film. "It was just air that I had to kind of pretend was a squirrel, and sometimes there was like a gray stuffed animal thing that was really creepy," Lawler recalls. "It had no feet, no tail, it looked like a rat. But yeah, I worked with that a lot, but then to kind of prepare me, in the beginning, I worked with a real rat, and like would hang out with the rat, and hold the rat. The rat was pretty cute actually."
Ben Schwartz, the popular Sonic the Hedghog star, chimed in to emphasize Lawler's point. "She loved that rat," he said with a smile.
"I did," Lawler admits. "I was so sad when they said, 'That's the last visit you have with the rat.'"
For director Lena Khan, the more technical elements of creating Ulysses came into play. "Before we did sequences we would kind of like modestly storyboard them," Khan explained. "But in some of them, you have these pre-viz animatics that you do, but those are never as real as when you're on set. The same way that when you're on set with actors, things change all the time. So they would change, and so I would have a puppet and I would use the puppet to kind of like, act out, and we're like, 'No, no, you know what? Let's do this in a different way. And that'll make much more sense.' So, they have to follow me with the puppet, and they'd have to follow the camera movement without the puppet. Then later on, we'd do like another post-viz mock-up. We were staring at nothing a lot of the time, that's pretty much what we did."
Ultimately, the squirrel fits into Flora & Ulysses fairly seamlessly, right down to the actors' eye lines looking at where the little super squirrel is and where he moves to. Are you excited for Flora & Ulysses on Disney+? Share your thoughts in the comment section or send them my way on Instagram!
Flora & Ulysses releases on Disney+ on February 19.