(Photo by Vincent Sandoval/Getty Image)
From his bombastic turn as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on Parks and Recreation to his modern take as the titular Sonic the Hedgehog opposite Jim Carrey — not to mention plum roles in Showtime’s House of Lies and Netflix’s Space Force — Ben Schwartz has been slowly amassing an enviable career mining overconfidence for laughter. But with a new role in Flora & Ulysses, the Bronx-born comedian is showing a softer side to his comedy.
In the Disney+ film, Schwartz plays George Buckman, a comic book creator who hasn’t quite found a way to break into the business. His 10-year-old daughter Flora (Matilda Lawler) may love his superhero, Incandesto, but George has not yet found as much success as his wife Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan), a celebrated romance novelist. Having all but given up on his dreams, working at an office supplies store and living in a bachelor pad while he and Phyllis figure out their next steps, George finds a new purpose when Flora introduces him to Ulysses. Oh, did we mention Ulysses is a superpowered squirrel who loves to type out poetry and is currently being hunted by the town’s animal control office? What follows is a warm-hearted family adventure film with plenty of slapstick comedy that captures the hope all caped comic book heroes inspire in their readers.
Ahead of the movie’s release, Schwartz spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about his Five Favorite Films, which, by his own admission, are undisputed crowd-pleasers (“like, get your M&Ms, put them in your popcorn and enjoy your day!”). But the fact that they’re beloved by millions doesn’t take away from what drew Schwartz to them in the first place.
Back to the Future (1985)
I think for a lot of people my age that’s probably a similar choice. For me it was the movie that when I saw it, it was like, “Oh, this is a movie!” I understood what movies were because of that. And if you look at it it’s so perfectly written. It’s so perfectly acted – Michael J. Fox is incredible, Christopher Lloyd is incredible. And it had all those fantastical elements that, as a kid, I loved. Like, oh my goodness, the DeLorean! I have a hoverboard up here; I have a whole bunch of props and stuff, just because it’s what I like. And so I have a fake hoverboard and a Lego DeLorean up there too, and I also have old Burger King toys that I had as a kid. So yeah, that’s number one.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The first drama as a kid that I really, really loved and went crazy for was Shawshank Redemption. I remember my dad and I loved that movie. I cried during it. And I was so quick to realize and understand how good the acting was, how good the writing was, and how good the directing was. So Shawshank, in terms of dramas; I’ve probably seen that drama more than any other drama. That’s a movie that, if you have a television, that movie’s on every minute on TBS or something. All the time.
I love animated movies. I love a Pixar film. I remember I was in the third row in a 3-D screening of this film, and I was sitting next to a grown man. Like, we were both grown men with 3-D glasses, and we were way too close to the screen because those were the only seats left. And after the first eight minutes of this film, I look to my right, and there were so many tears in my friend’s glasses that it was like a cartoon, where goldfish are swimming through. And he looks at me and I’m overflowing and crying so much. And the movie is Up. I think the score is perfect by Michael Giacchino. I just think Pete Docter’s a genius. So Up for me was a beautiful and perfect movie.
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
In terms of comedy, Jim Carrey is my hero (and the fact that I got to play with him in Sonic is incredible). But Dumb and Dumber is, I think, one of the funniest comedies of all time. And as a kid, I remember, my sister Marnie, who’s three years older than me, when she went to college, she got one of those TV sets that had a VHS in it. And then she moved in with other people and she had no need for that anymore. So I secretly – this is kind of embarrassing, but maybe this is the place to do it – I took it, and I put it in my bathroom closet. And so, whenever I was going to the bathroom for more than like 10 minutes or whatever I could watch a VHS tape. And one of those tapes I had was Dumb and Dumber. It was great. So I’ve watched that movie so many times. And as a kid who loves comedy, Jim tickled me. Him and Jeff Daniels just, they have my number on that movie. That movie was so so funny to me.
Jurassic Park (1993)
So I’m thinking about the movies that I’ve been watching in quarantine. There’s a lot of old-school movies that I loved. Like, I saw The Taking of Pelham One Two Three with [Walter] Matthau and I was like, “Oh my god this movie’s incredible.” And there are movies like, I think When Harry Met Sally… is a perfect movie; Princess Bride is an incredible movie. And then I re-watched one and I realized that it’s the movie I’ve seen more than any other movie in theaters, so I was like “Maybe I’ll put this on my list.” And it’s Jurassic Park. We re-watched it recently and I was like, “This is amazing!” And it’s so good! The score is so good! Everybody’s so good in it! I remember when I watched it in theaters, I watched it so much because it felt like a roller coaster. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. I couldn’t believe it – it felt like a ride. So I watched it over and over and over again. I love it.
Flora & Ulysses is available on Disney+ from February 19, 2021.
Thumbnail image: Vincent Sandoval/Getty Image, © Columbia Pictures, © New Line, © Walt Disney Co., © MCA/Universal Pictures, © Universal