By Bob Garver
After several weeks of increasingly ineffective horror movies, “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” was a nice change of pace. Actually, it was nice to have anything at all 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 harmless piece about a singing crocodile is exactly what the movie landscape – maybe the American landscape – needs right now. Unfortunately, I’m much more grateful for this movie’s mere existence than for 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, putting in much more effort than you’d expect for a movie with this title). Valenti can’t catch a break in show business, and his old-fashioned act isn’t exactly a hit on reality TV. He decides what he needs is an animal, and in a rare bit of good luck, he happens upon the singing croc. Lyle is shy and only communicates through song, but singing alone is good enough for the act. Valenti raises Lyle until he’s fully grown, at which point he books them in a theater, offering up his family’s NYC brownstone as collateral. The act bombs when Lyle proves too scared to sing, and Valenti is ruined. If you’ve ever seen the cartoon “One Froggy Evening” with Michigan J. Frog, it’s basically that. If you’ve never seen “One Froggy Evening,” I apologize for your childhood.
Valenti is forced to go on the road and leave Lyle behind in the brownstone, which is sold off. In comes the Primm family: dad Mr. Primm (Scott McNairy), stepmom Mrs. Primm (Constance Wu), and son Josh (Winslow Fegley). Josh doesn’t fit in at school or in New York, but he makes fast friends with Lyle once the latter is discovered. The parents are freaked out at first, but they too come around on Lyle once they discover that he can cook, wrestle, sing, and rock a scarf. The singing 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 get to stay with his new family? This is a kids’ movie, so it’s a pretty safe bet it won’t be prison.
The best thing about the movie is its overarching sweetness. Lyle is the nicest crocodile in the world, even if he is accident-prone. The Primm's 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 pleasant as well, with some covers and some originals courtesy of the team from “The Greatest Showman,” and all featuring Mendes’ heavenly voice. I like that crowd-pleasing style, so those were highlights of the movie for me. As for covers, don’t worry, a certain Elton John song gets some inevitable love.
Sadly, the movie is a mess in other parts, which prevents me from giving it an overall recommendation. The “well-meaning animated/CGI animal getting into trouble in New York City” troupe was overdone last year in both “Tom and Jerry” and “Clifford, the Big Red Dog,” though I’d say this is a notch above both of those movies. The Primm family may be nicer than Valenti, but they’re not nearly as interesting, and it drags the movie out when Lyle has to win over one parent and then the other when both at once would have been sufficient. Perhaps worst of all is the ending, with a rushed courtroom scene that relies on Valenti’s family history, which has never been discussed before. “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” is a movie that the family needs to see only if you’re low on other options, but there aren’t too many other options, so sure, go see it.
“Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” is rated PG for mild peril and thematic elements. Its running time is 106 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org