It’s a dark and uncertain world, and hey, sometimes something as random as a singing crocodile casually living in New York City might do the trick brightening things up. But while, the live-action/CGI hybrid adaptation of Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is a well-intentioned family film that has some whimsy and doesn’t take itself too seriously, there’s quite a bit missing here. It doesn’t pull off that magic trick that movies like Mary Poppins or Paddington have done before it – you know, the one to make some part of you to want a croc to take a bathtub in your home.
Unfortunately, directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon deliver what feels like a combination of choices meant to bring Bernard Waber’s 1965 children’s book into the mainstream above telling a meaningful story. They’ve got the immensely talented Shawn Mendes behind the voice of Lyle is a cute, likable enough character who sings numerous dance songs and also finds a friendship with middle-schooler (Winslow Fegley) before getting to know the boy's father (Scoot McNairy) and step-mother (Constance Wu) in the process as well. It’s all very familiar, harmless, and too tame to be memorable.
Think Paddington, if he couldn’t talk and it was a musical.
The key problem with Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is that Lyle only communicates through song. He does so with the original music of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriters behind beloved musicals like La La Land and The Greatest Showman, as well as already well-known songs. Pasek and Paul's latest work is unsurprisingly great, but because Lyle doesn’t talk otherwise, except through cutesy expressions and moments making the character feel more like a trained singing crocodile than lead character we're supposed to all fall in love with – and that’s odd considering some of the intended messages within the movie.
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile begins with a baby Lyle being discovered by Javier Bardem’s Hector P. Valenti, who hears him singing a Cardi B song in the back of an exotic pet shop and snatches him up to be the star of his next show where he’ll introduce the world to a singing crocodile. However, the show doesn’t go as planned, and Lyle is left in New York City to fend for himself until he’s an adult sized croc living in the attic of a house. When the Primm family moves into his home, that’s where the core story begins.
Lyle plays way too many family movie clichés to say anything new.
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile touches upon the exploitation of animals throughout, but it does little to humanize and ground the story to make it mean anything. It feels like it’s doing a lot of leg work to live up to being the next Paddington, but Lyle’s perspective is only to sing the songs and move the story along without much originality at all. It’s clearly a movie meant to be all in good fun, but many of the characters fall into being way too one-dimensional. The story creates way too many ridiculous moments meant for laughs for audiences to be keyed into the movie emotionally once the supposed “heartwarming” scenes kick in.
It’s also musical that goes through the motions, and somehow doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching a musical. As a very big fan of characters breaking into song on screen, I felt more like the movie is a series of music videos starring a croc rather than a full piece. There's additionally a lot of recycled jokes from the family movie genre you’ve likely heard many times over. In multiple instances, right before it was delivered, I could guess what line was coming, and sure enough it happened.
Javier Bardem as a wonderfully whimsical showman steals the show.
Although there are plenty of thematic problems with Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, the movie did absolutely score with Javier Bardem’s rare family movie character. The Oscar-winner proves he can make anything work with an electric performance as a washed up performer packed with confidence and a spring in his step in a way we’ve never seen the actor. Bardem steals the charisma out from Lyle and the Primm family to become the most delightful element of the movie.
It may do the trick for young children, but Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile didn’t make this reviewer believe a crocodile can sing. Overall, Lyle is all melody and no pizzazz.
YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.
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