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When you think of life-sized animated crocodiles (and who doesn’t, at least once in a while?), you don’t imagine that their singing voice is like Shawn Mendes’. No slight toward the 24-year-old pop star intended, but shouldn’t a crocodile sound a bit weightier? When the title character of the new live-action/CGI musical comedy Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile opens his very large mouth to sing in a high-pitched tenor voice, he sounds less like a giant-toothed predatory reptile than, I don’t know…a salamander, maybe.
Based on Bernard Waber’s best-selling book series, the film falls easily into the family movie sub-genre in which children, and often their parents and other adults, learn life lessons from a very large animal. When I was a kid, I was a sucker for Clifford the Big Red Dog (the subject of his own movie, released last year), probably because I tend to prefer dogs to animals who could eat me if they felt so inclined.
That probably won’t be a problem for the tykes seeing this film, directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon (The Switch, Office Christmas Party), since Lyle is undeniably adorable, even though he somehow manages to look like a large man wearing a crocodile suit even in animated form. He also happens to possess a beautiful singing voice, which is frequently heard in original songs composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman), among others, that will evaporate from your brain before you get up from your theater seat. Lyle, who doesn’t actually speak, suffers from debilitating stage fright when attempting to sing in public, which strangely mirrors Mendes’ own publicly declared anxiety issues.
The story involves a married couple, the Primms (Constance Wu, Scoot McNairy), who move to New York City despite the fact that their young son Josh (13-year-old Winslow Fegley, already a pro) is terrified of the dangers of urban living (he seems the sanest character in the film). They live in the sort of magnificent, real-estate-porn brownstone that those unfamiliar with reality assume every New York family inhabits. It’s there that Josh discovers Lyle, living contentedly alone in their attic after having been temporarily left there by his owner, Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem), a sleazy, fast-talking entertainer who grandiosely describes himself to everyone he encounters as a “star of stage and screen.”
Lyle instantly frees Josh from his anxieties, as they begin frolicking around the city together, sharing the joys of dumpster diving and take-out Chinese food and hanging out on the roofs of Broadway theaters. Needless to say, Josh’s parents are less thrilled when they discover the large reptile living in their home, with Mr. Primm even engaging in some impromptu crocodile wrestling to protect his family. But it isn’t long before they warm up to the cuddly Lyle, with Mrs. Primm shedding her natural reserve in the exuberant musical number “Rip Up the Recipe.”
This being a children’s film, there’s naturally a villain. In this case, he’s the aptly named Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman, Stranger Things, not exactly playing against type), who lives in the brownstone’s basement apartment and is strangely obsessed with his cat Loretta (who, as depicted here in CGI form, makes Grumpy Cat look giddy).
It’s all harmless fun, containing enough mild laughs and genuinely sweet moments (if you can contain your emotions during the reunion scene between Lyle and Hector, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am) to keep its target audiences entertained. The adult performers go through their paces with the sort of good humor one expects, but doesn’t always get, from actors being made to do very silly things. Bardem goes further than that, hamming it up entertainingly and clearly relishing the rare opportunity to be a song-and-dance man, albeit not a very good one. And if you were expecting to hear the song “Crocodile Rock” at some point in the film, rest assured you won’t go away disappointed.
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Javier Bardem, Constant Wu, Winslow Fegley, Scoot McNairy, Brett Gelman, Shawn Mendes
Directors: Will Speck, Josh Gordon
Screenwriter: Will Davies
Producers: Hutch Parker, Will Speck, Josh Gordon
Executive producers: Kevin K. Vafi, Dan Wilson, Robert J. Dohrmann, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Tarak Ben Ammar, Andy Mitchell
Director of photography: Javier Aguirresarobe
Production designer: Mark Worthington
Editor: Richard Pearson
Composer: Mathew Margeson
Costume designer: Kym Barrett
Casting: Lindsay Graham, Mary Vernieu
Rated PG, 1 hour 46 minutes
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