In theatres Oct. 7
After the Primm family (Scoot McNairy, Constance Wu) moves to New York City, their young son Josh (Winslow Fegley) struggles to adapt to his new school and make friends. But that all changes when Josh discovers that a singing crocodile lives in the attic of his Victorian brownstone. Likeable Lyle (Shawn Mendes) transforms the family into a fun-loving together unit. However, their awful evil neighbor Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman) is always threatening action. Magician Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem), who rescued Lyle from a shop when he was a down-and-out entertainer, reappears. Let the adventures begin!
Lyle is a gentle giant. This crocodile has a gourmet palate – loves to feast on caviar and restaurant leftovers. After dumpster-diving and slithering around Manhattan incognito at night, Lyle enjoys bubble baths and singing catchy show tunes.
Created by Bernard Waber in “The House on East 88th Street” in 1962, this city-dwelling nocturnal crocodile has been a beloved children’s book character ever since, and this is the live-action and animated hybrid adaptation of the second story, “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile,” which followed in 1965.
Translating fantasy characters into movie roles has always been tough – and you either accept that a scarf-wearing kind-hearted crocodile helps a family with chores and gets out of jams because he’s a reptile living with humans – or you can’t get past a real gator masquerading as a Florida football mascot.
Only a curmudgeon like the insufferable spiteful busybody neighbor Mr. Grumps couldn’t appreciate its goofy premise and the message of finding family in unexpected places.
With its noble intentions, pleasant poppy songs penned by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (“The Greatest Showman,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land”) and a noteworthy winning performance by Javier Bardem, this slick book adaptation by screenwriter William Davies should warm the hearts of kids and parents alike on the big screen.
Grammy-nominated pop-rock singer Shawn Mendes provides the pleasing voice for Lyle’s upbeat renditions, and Pasek and Paul have crafted bouncy rhythms that are well-staged in the spacious brownstone and on Broadway rooftops.
Constance Wu and Scoot McNairy are appealing as Katie and Joseph Primm, confronted with the fitting-in issues, parenting Josh during his difficult time, and trying to keep that awful Mr. Grumps from calling the police or, worst-case scenario, putting Lyle in the zoo.
They bond with lovable Lyle too, which appears genuine, as does the key relationship between Winslow Fegley as Josh and Lyle. He’s a regular kid whose committed and cares, and you can feel it.
But the biggest surprise is how much fun Oscar-winner Javier Bardem appears to be having as Lyle’s charismatic owner Hector P. Valenti. He’s all showbiz and jazz-hands, but underneath the façade, is actually a likable guy. Bardem is convincing as a guy on the fringes of legitimate live acts with minimal talent and maximum bravado, who has some secrets and shady past lives. Who knew he could be so effective as a song-and-dance man?
Lyle’s not the only adorable animal in the film – Mr. Grumps’ precious pedigreed cat, Loretta, is funny in a finicky cat way.
While the character of Lyle is always trying to prove that he’s not what people think, which the human characters struggle with too – the movie shares that same goal. It turns out to be more than you expect.
The veteran directing team of Will Gordon and Josh Speck, mega-award winners for advertising commercials, smoothly integrate the visual effects, and capably stage the delightful music numbers and dance routines.
The visual effects were handled by Framestore, Method, OPSIS and Day for Nite, and they are seamless.
Gordon and Speck aren’t shooting a grand, ground-breaking film, and stick with the tasks at hand -- keeping everything breezy and entertaining.
Composer Matthew Margeson’s peppy city-inspired score compliments Pasek and Paul’s traditional show tunes. The original songs “Top of the World,” “Look at Us Now” and “Carried Away” are hummable, if not major earworms. While they may not be Oscar nominees like “La La Land” was, these are more along the lines of “The Greatest Showman,” which was the no. 1 best-selling album of 2018 in the U.S.
The soundtrack, featuring – wait for it – “Crocodile Rock” hits stores and streaming on Oct. 7. Shawn Mendes has released “Heartbeat” as a single.
If the family is in the mood for an uplifting, feel-good movie, “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” might suffice – and sure to be embraced by pre-teen girls, and some younger age groups.
At its best, it makes you smile.