By Bob Garver
After several weeks of increasingly ineffective horror movies, “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” was a nice change of pace. It was actually nice to have anything for the kids, who haven’t had a movie since “DC League of Super-Pets” all the way back in July. In many ways, this innocuous piece about a singing crocodile is just what the cinematic landscape – perhaps the American landscape – needs right now. Sadly, I’m much more grateful for this movie’s mere existence than what it actually brings to the table.
We follow Lyle (Shawn Mendes) as he bounces between two families. First up is magician Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem, who puts in a lot more effort than you’d expect for a movie with that title). Valenti can’t take a break from show business, and his old-school act isn’t exactly a hit on reality TV. He decides what he needs is an animal, and in a rare stroke of luck, he comes across the Singing Crocodile. Lyle is shy and only communicates through song, but singing alone is enough for the act. Valenti raises Lyle until he is an adult, at which time he books them into a theater, offering his family’s New York brownstone as collateral. The act explodes when Lyle turns out to be too scared to sing and Valenti is ruined. If you’ve ever seen the “One Froggy Evening” cartoon starring Michigan J. Frog, this is basically it. If you’ve never seen “One Froggy Evening”, I apologize for your childhood.
Valenti is forced to hit the road and leave Lyle in the brownstone, which is sold. Enter the Primm family: dad Mr. Primm (Scott McNairy), stepmother Mrs. Primm (Constance Wu) and son Josh (Winslow Fegley). Josh doesn’t fit in at school or in New York, but he quickly befriends Lyle once the latter is discovered. The parents are freaked out at first, but they too turn to Lyle once they discover he can cook, wrestle, sing, and rock a sling. The chant infuriates downstairs neighbor Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman), who wants Lyle taken away by animal control. Valenti returns and wants Lyle for himself. Will Lyle be imprisoned, forced into show business or will he be able to stay with his new family? It’s a children’s movie, so it’s a safe bet that it won’t be prison.
The best thing about the film is its overall smoothness. Lyle is the most beautiful crocodile in the world, even if he is accident prone. The Primms want nothing more than to spend time with Josh, and it’s because the youngster likes the carnivore that they welcome him into the family. And the musical numbers are all enjoyable too, with a few covers and some originals courtesy of “The Greatest Showman” team, and all featuring Mendes’ celestial vocals. I like that crowd-pleasing style, so those are the highlights of the movie for me. When it comes to covers, don’t worry, a certain Elton John song is getting some inevitable love.
Unfortunately, the movie is a mess in other parts, which prevents me from giving it an overall recommendation. The troupe of ‘well-meaning animated/CGI animals in trouble in New York’ was overdone last year in ‘Tom and Jerry’ and ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’, though I’d say it’s a cut above both of these films. The Primm family may be nicer than Valenti, but they’re not nearly as interesting, and it drags the movie when Lyle has to win over one parent and then the other, when both would have sufficed. Perhaps worst of all is the ending, with a rushed courtroom scene that draws on Valenti’s family history, which has never been discussed before. “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” is a movie the family only needs to see if you’re running out of other options, but there aren’t too many other options, so of course go see it.
“Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” is rated PG for light hazard and thematic elements. Its operating time is 106 minutes.
IMDB photo credit.