Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (Review) – Shawn Mendes Crocs His Socks Off

DIRECTORS: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

CAST: Shawn Mendes, Javier Bardem, Constance Wu, Winslow Fegley, Scoot McNairy, Brett Gelman, Lyric Hurd

RUNNING TIME: 106 mins

CERTIFICATE: PG

BASICALLY…: A singing crocodile (Mendes) is befriended by a family in New York…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Fair play to the filmmakers behind Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile: they know exactly who their target audience is. A lot of kid-centric movies often try and make themselves appealing to older viewers by throwing in some crude humour that only adults will understand, but not this movie. Instead, the adaptation of Bernard Waber’s 1965 children’s book of the same name keeps everything, from the jokes to the colour scheme to the music all the way to the life lessons, purely at a juvenile level, making itself endlessly appealing to anyone up to the age of 10.

Anyone older than that, though, may just see it as a formulaic, but harmless, movie that plays into virtually every convention you’d expect in this kind of film.

The film opens as washed-up entertainer Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem) makes an unusual discovery in an exotic pet shop: a crocodile with an impeccable singing voice (that of pop sensation Shawn Mendes). Naming the little reptile Lyle, Hector attempts to capitalise on his new pet’s extraordinary talent, but a case of stage fright forces Hector to leave Lyle in his attic while he travels around to find work. Some time later, a new family – Katie (Constance Wu), John (Scoot McNairy), and Josh (Winslow Fegley) – move into the house, and quickly discover the seemingly dangerous crocodile still living in the attic, but Lyle soon wins them over with his unusual gift for singing, and the family finds themselves charmed by their new reptilian friend. Things get complicated, however, when Hector suddenly returns, and when the family’s mean landlord Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman) sets out to destroy their newfound happiness.

The formula that Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile works with is no different to the one used for movies like Paddington, Stuart Little, Peter Rabbit, or even last year’s Clifford the Big Red Dog, and if you’re now sick to death of these kinds of movies where a CGI version of the titular literary character interacts with human families in suburban settings (more often than not in New York City), then this isn’t likely to turn the tide for you. However, directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck do not appear to have approached this with blatant cynicism, as they do try to inject an upbeat and energetic level of fun and whimsy that young children will almost immediately get on board with. Sure, there’s the obligatory fart joke every now and then, as well as some pop culture references that immediately date the movie, but compared to a lot less refined family movies, they’re sparingly used and don’t completely ruin the momentum it’s otherwise going for – though some will make even kids groan, like a scene where a cat drops a tsunami of droppings into its litter tray, right after a big and emotional musical number.

Said music is a mix between classic songs by the likes of Elton John and Stevie Wonder, and some originals by song-writing duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the Oscar-winning lyricists behind La La Land and The Greatest Showman). Much of it is carried by Mendes’ vocals, and while there is admittedly a bit of a disconnect hearing this up-tempo voice coming out of this lunky CGI crocodile – instead, you’d imagine a lower-pitched tenor voice like the frog in that infamous Looney Tunes short One Froggy Evening – his singing is fine enough to enjoy, and the character itself is likeable even when he doesn’t speak for the rest of the movie. There are further spirited vocal performances from cast members like Constance Wu and Javier Bardem, the latter relishing in his character’s larger-than-life charisma and ends up being the best human in the entire movie (compared to him, the main family is pretty bland, as is the boo-hiss villain who just seems like he’s nasty for no real reason other than the movie needs a bad guy).

Of course, the movie isn’t reaching for the stars in terms of originality, and certainly doesn’t reinvent the family movie rulebook by any stretch of the imagination, but Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile exists as a fluffy and harmless bit of fun for younger viewers who aren’t quite yet ready for the much more emotional kicks of the Paddington movies. However, it’s understandable why anyone would find it irritating, largely because it does stick so closely to that formula and does little if not nothing to set itself apart from it, not to mention how distracting it can be to hear a voice coming out of something that should not logically have this kind of voice. But hey, if the kids are having fun, then as far as I’m concerned the movie has done its job, and found exactly the right balance for its young viewers to have fun with this upcoming half-term.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is a harmless family musical that features some spirited performances and a likeable lead character that overcomes its odd disconnect between its lunky appearance and Shawn Mendes’ up-tempo vocals, but it does stick heavily to the familiar formula used in films like Paddington and Clifford the Big Red Dog, which some might find irritating if they’re looking for something that bucks the trend.

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 14th October 2022 – click here to find a screening near you!

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