The world of children’s films can be a mixed bag. For every Paddington, there are dozens of cheaply made cash grabs. Yet the ones that create an emotional heartbeat to stay with you. The passion of Lyle Lyle Crocodile surprises you at first. However, the winning cast and moments of brilliant character design make it impossible to resist the sweet story of a singing crocodile.
Based on the popular book series by Bernard Waber, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile follows the story of a singing crocodile living in a New York brownstone. Owned by showman Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem), Lyle Lyle Crocodile (Shawn Mendes) suffers from intense stage fright. When Valenti loses money on their stage show, the showman is forced to rent out his house and travel to make money. When the Primm family (Scoot McNairy, Constance Wu, and Winslow Fegley) moves in, they bond with Lyle. As Josh and Lyle grow closer, they find themselves threatened by Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman) and Valenti’s debt.
The real question that Lyle, Lyle Crocodile that will determine your investment in the film, is whether or not you can buy into the CGI Lyle. If it takes you out of the movie, you will likely have a terrible time. If you can overlook the sometimes questionable visuals, it will take you on a ride. The CG is at its worst when its trying to capture close ups of Lyle singing, but directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon avoid overusing these shots. Few can recreate Mendes’ vocal dexterity, and while this proves to be difficult on the VFX team, it also helps the movie soar during singing sequences.
The amount of cast buy-in helps Lyle, Lyle soar as well. Bardem gives a better, more committed performance here than he did in last year’s Being the Ricardo’s, which earned him an Oscar nomination. He will not repeat that feat, but the comedic and clown-inspired showman character becomes a constant source of entertainment. Not dissimilar, Gelman leans all the way in on his grumpy persona, which creates dozens of legitimately hilarious comedic sequences throughout the film.
Wu and McNairy also stand out for their ability to sell the humor of their situation. McNairy requires more sight gags at his expense (one has to wonder how much fun the wrestling sequences were with the stand-in), while Wu showcases her dancing. Wu’s surprisingly emotional arc also pays off several times throughout the film, and opens up the story with Fegley. The young actor does not always get the best material (mostly shouting how awesome something is) but primarily exists as our moral compass.
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is the kind of film you already know if you’ll like. Either the fun toe-tapping numbers will work if you can suspend your disbelief, or you’ve already decided the croc movie is too ridiculous. There’s not much that will sway your opinion, but if you do open your heart to the cat-like crocodile finding his place and courage, you will find a movie that is unashamed of its saccharine story.