"Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" stars Shawn Mendes, Javier Bardem, Constance Wu, Winslow Fegley, Scoot McNairy, and Brett Gelman. Released on October 7, 2022, the film has a family discovering a singing crocodile in New York City.
The film was directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon, who also directed "Blades of Glory", "The Switch", "The Power Inside", and "Office Christmas Party". It is based on the 1965 children's book of the same name by Bernard Waber. New York offers many things that make this city one of a kind. It's got the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, and...a singing crocodile? It's no surprise that New York is the place to go to discover some strange occurrences in the movie world, whether it's a web-slinging hero or a group of mutant ninja turtles. This latest family comedy is no different, as a beloved children's book about a crocodile in New York City finally sings its way to the big screen. That's right, "sing". The movie adaptation of the book is a musical, just to make the concept more fun for the kids. Since the rest of the month will be filled with action and horror (mainly the latter), it makes sense that we get at least one harmless film for the children to watch while the adults see the return of Michael Myers. Fortunately, the same goes for me while I wait for the big boy movies to come out. So was the film able to hit the right notes in the live-action/CGI scale? Let's find out.
The story centers on the Primm family adjusting to their new life in New York City. Unfortunately, their young son Josh (Fegley) is the only one struggling to make new friends and adapt to his new surroundings. One day, while exploring his new home, Josh discovers a saltwater crocodile named Lyle (Mendes) living in the attic. He later realizes that Lyle's no ordinary crocodile, as the reptile can dance and sing. This discovery makes Josh's new life a whole lot better, but it's later threatened by his family's neighbor Mr. Grumps (Gelman), who's suspicious of his unwelcome guest. With the help of Lyle's owner, a magician named Hector P. Valenti (Bardem), the Primms set out to prove to the world that Lyle's more friendly than he appears to be.
With the rest of this month's lineup full of creepy and violent movies, "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" has a big task of having enough good notes in its scale to make itself a recommended choice for families. Of course, there's also the latest "Minions" movie as their other choice, but as far as quality goes, it can only go so far as to entertain those outside its target audience. This movie falls in line with the other live-action/CGI adaptations of source materials aimed at kids. While some were somewhat suitable for distracting the kids, they often get bashed by critics for their stories, visuals, and their abundance of pop culture references. But with the proper execution, especially with a trustworthy crew and talented cast, some of them may turn out to be more tolerable and even more enjoyable than the rest. Just look at the "Sonic the Hedgehog" films and try to prove me otherwise. You know you want to. Fortunately, "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" also fits that description. Its pitches were far from perfect, but it does offer some decent family-friendly entertainment out of its musical reptile.
Unlike the titular character, the story is nothing too miraculous or out of the ordinary. It puts itself on autopilot as it dances past the usual storytelling elements from other family movies. You have a family moving into the big city, a child as a fish-out-of-water character, and an unusual discovery that changes that family's new lives for the better. It's like screenwriter William Davies uses a list made for the previous fish-out-of-water-type movies to craft its plot, checking off every element on the list as he writes. By the way, Davies was also responsible for writing the "Johnny English" trilogy and a couple of DreamWorks Animation films like "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Puss in Boots".
So if you're looking for an award-winning story out of a children's film about a tuneful crocodile, it's pretty evident that you'll be disappointed with the result. However, what really matters to me is the execution. Even if the story is derivative, a movie often compensates for this flaw with its entertainment values, energy, and charm. If they don't have enough of those things, what's the point of bringing your children to it, let alone having an adult like me watch it alone? Thankfully, this film delivers on those aspects, along with its acceptable balance of kid-friendly humor and appealing shenanigans. Aside from the movie being seven minutes too long, the story is both harmless and genuinely adorable, with a message about true friendship heartfelt enough to get kids and even grown-ups like me to tap their toes in delight. Will Speck and Josh Gordon seemed like odd choices to helm a movie like this since they're known for directing comedies aimed at an older crowd. However, I was surprised to see how well their direction was regarding its light-hearted nature. It's not groundbreaking, but it is still a good change of pace for the filmmaking duo's style.
The cast also did a solid job delivering some entertaining performances. One of the highlights, in particular, is Javier Bardem, who dazzles his way into my heart as Hector. Considering Hector's charismatic and humorous personality, Bardem is a great choice to embody these traits flawlessly. Constance Wu is also delightful as Katie Primm, while Winslow Fegley continues to impress me during his journey to fame regarding his performance as Josh. I also enjoyed a couple of moments involving Brett Gelman from "Stranger Things" fame as the Primms' grumpy next-door neighbor.
But, of course, I can't forget about the real star of the show: Lyle, voiced by singer/songwriter Shawn Mendes. It's no surprise that Mendes is a great singer, so it makes sense why the filmmakers chose him to give a crocodile a heavenly voice. Since Lyle can only sing, it felt like Mendes had the easiest job in voice acting history. All he had to do was sing, and that's it. No talking or acting is required. It's probably a better option to prevent him from getting criticized for his acting like Harry Styles. On a serious note, I thought Mendes did a fantastic job as Lyle, no doubt about it.
Another element I should mention is the movie's songs. In case you can't tell already, the film is a musical, similar to the 1987 animated adaptation that aired on HBO. The original songs made for Mendes were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the same guys who wrote the music for "La La Land" and "The Greatest Showman". I enjoyed these films for their music, so it's not surprising that I also have the same feeling about this one. Were they good enough to earn some award nominations? Not really. However, they're still fun to listen to, with "Top of the World" being one of my favorites.
In addition to the story and runtime, my other issue is the visuals, mainly for the animals. It's not to say that they're terrible, but they do take me out of the film sometimes. The only good part of the CGI effects was Lyle himself regarding the facial expressions and movements. The other animals, including the other crocodiles, were slightly off-putting compared to the titular crocodile. Another example was Mr. Grumps' pet cat, who's entirely 100% CGI. It didn't even use the real cat for the simplistic and less dangerous stunts. I understand why they went down this route to avoid any lawsuits, but at least make the visuals more convincing.
Overall, "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" may not be a singing sensation, but it is a decent tune to listen to regardless. It's an endearing and heart-warming family film that hits almost all of the right notes in its charm and musical numbers. Its formulaic story may not win over everybody, and the CGI can be distracting in specific moments. However, it will undoubtedly delight its target audience with its likable cast, humor, message, and enjoyable songs. It might even attract fans of Shawn Mendes if we're lucky. If they didn't recognize Mendes through his other music, they would definitely remember him as the voice of a singing CGI crocodile. If you're looking for something to watch with the kids or are familiar with the source material, this movie's one of the better options for you to check out.