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Director Lena Khan Describes Flora & Ulysses As Live-Action Pixar Movie

Flora & Ulysses is coming to Disney+ on February 19, 2021! Based off the book by Kate DiCamillo, Director Lena Khan hopes it’s a live-action Pixar movie. What does she mean by that? I was able to attend a set visit in Vancouver, Canada in August 2019 and interview her along with stars of the film. A movie about hope, Flora & Ulysses is not just made for kids, as Khan is also targeting adults, especially comic book fans. Check out what I learned about Flora & Ulysses below. 

Flora in Flora & Ulysses reading a comic book

Matilda Lawler as Flora

Flora & Ulysses: A Live-Action Pixar Movie

Being on-set of a film is always an incredible experience. Add in the beauty of Vancouver, plus interviews with actors who had so much respect for each other, and it’s an even lovelier experience. Ben Schwartz and Alyson Hannigan even came in on their day off to talk with us! 

Speaking to Director Lena Khan really got me excited for this film, especially when talking about her goals and reasons for entering this career. 

It’s interesting to listen to interviews and conversations from 2019. Had we only known what was coming in 2020, the dialogue may have been different or maybe the messages from this film now hold stronger.

What does that mean – a live-action Pixar movie? 

Khan said, “A little bit of a heightened sense of reality while the character troubles that they are experiencing are very real and grounded, and people aren’t cartoony. It’s just the situations you find them in are a little off beat – hilarious, but real.”

These characters are flawed and have been through trauma. And Khan is not here to sugar coat it. 

Flora & Ulysses is about 10-year-old Flora, a self-avowed cynic whose parents are going through a divorce. She rescues a squirrel names Ulysses and discovers he has superpowers. He takes them on an adventure that helps change her outlook and help the broken people in her life.  

One of the most powerful statements Khan makes, “If I can see myself in this movie, then all broken people can.” 

“If I can see myself in this movie, then all broken people can.” -Lena Khan

How does Pixar inspire her?

Toy Story is a Pixar movie that inspires Khan. Just like in Toy Story, you’ll find some jokes that aren’t meant for children. There are subtle jokes in the dialogue, a Back to the Future shot, and homages to other movies.

Khan adds that Pixar never holds back in terms of making issues deep. People die in Pixar movies!

In this story there are 4 really broken people. “We didn’t pull back on that. We really give them hope.” That’s when the Pixar magic comes into play.

Director Lena Khan and Matilda Lawler

Director Lena Khan and Matilda Lawler behind the scenes of FLORA & ULYSSES

1000 Easter Eggs in Flora & Ulysses

Khan exclaimed, “There’s like 1000 Easter Eggs.” I don’t know if there technically are 1000, but there are a lot! 

Since Khan wanted to target adults and Flora is a comic book reader, she really wanted The Comic Cave to be legit and hit hard with Comic Book people. 

After speaking with many comic book aficionados, they added things people would recognize. Like Comic Cave is like a Batcave, and they added a giant penny, a dinosaur, things from Mysterio, etc. Some things people will get and some others won’t.

Just like shows period pieces like to be super accurate, that’s how they treated comic book things. Whether it was props or things integral for the movie, they geeked out! 

You’ll even find Disney Easter Eggs throughout the film like reference to Ducktales and Donald Duck’s nephews.

About Ulysses

Khan knew that kids would be in for Flora & Ulysses, because Ulysses is awesome. He’s patterned after a red squirrel, because they’re more muscular than gray squirrels and they have tufts. Plus they’re going extinct, so she wanted to highlight this rarer species.

Fun fact: Ulysses would be Chris Pratt’s character in the show Parks and Recreation.

Ulysses in Flora & Ulysses

Subverting Stereotypes

After speaking to Khan, I came to admire her quickly. She entered her career from a point of activism. “I’d like the work to try to bring some good to the world.” She tried hard for diversity in the film, especially with gender and race. 

Khan is aware of the incredible opportunity Disney is giving her for this film. “You see so few minority women directors, less than 5% in movies.” That number is crazy. Less than 5%. 

“You see so few minority women directors, less than 5% in movies.” -Lena Khan

If you can’t prove you can do a studio movie, then the business doesn’t usually let females make movies that deal with minority issues or female issues. Movies that Khan wants to make. 

As far as Flora & Ulysses, what drew her  to this project was that you have a little girl that can hold her own against anybody else. “She is the hero of this movie. She’s funny, she’s cool, and she reads comic books. You’re also subverting stereotypes while not giving into them.”

Perhaps the obvious choice was to make a girl comic book fan a tomboy, but Khan didn’t do that. Flora still has femininity.

I am here for this. For subverting stereotypes, for diversity, for bringing good to the world, and most importantly, for hope. In 2021, it’s ok to hope. And according to Khan, that’s the idea of the movie.

You can stream Flora & Ulysses on Disney+ on February 19, 2021!

Lena Khan Interview

For more set visit fun, check out our reactions from the set visit from a few of The Geekly Show hosts filmed while we were in Canada!

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