LYLE, LYLE CROCODILE: 3 ½ STARS. “this old-blooded reptile, has a warm heart. ”
Here’s the pitch. It’s “Paddington,” except with a crocodile.
That’s “Lyle, Lyle Crocodile,” a new kid’s movie featuring the voice of pop star Shawn Mendes as the titular anthropomorphic crocodile, in a nutshell.
Based on a children’s book series by Bernard Waber first published in 1965, the story begins as magician Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem), on a search to find “something unusual” to spice up his act, finds a singing baby crocodile in the backroom of a pet shop. Hector teaches the talented croc to sing and dance, but stage fright prevents him performing in front of people.
Cut to eighteen months later. The Primm family, Katie (Constance Wu) and Joseph (Scoot McNairy) and preteen son Josh (Winslow Fegley) have just moved to New York City, and Josh is having trouble fitting in. The city’s noises freak him out and his best friend is a smart speaker.
One night, after hearing noises in the attic, Josh investigates and finds what he thinks is a large, stuffed crocodile in a glass case. Stuck to the case is a note. “This is my crocodile,” it reads. “Please take good care of him. Cordially yours, Hector P. Valenti.”
Turns out this is no taxidermy display, but the real-life singing crocodile named Lyle, now full grown.
The pair become friends—”He’s not dangerous,” says Josh. “He’s just lonely like me.”—but as Lyle becomes part of the family, the unhappy neighbor Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman) wants him gone, preferably to a zoo.
“Lyle, Lyle Crocodile” is a gently paced family movie about finding family and a voice. It’s an uplifting story, simply told, just like the classic kid’s book, with broad characters—Bardem, in particularly seems to be having fun here—and not too much peril. Most importantly, there isn’t a cynical bone to be found anywhere in Lyle’s cinematic world. He may be a cold-blooded reptile, but he has a warm heart.
Lyle can’t talk, but he can sing, and sing he does. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of “Dear Evan Hansen,” “LaLa Land” and “The Greatest Showman” provide the tunes, most of which seamlessly fit into the story. As sung by Mendes, with occasional backup from Bardem, the glossy pop songs are anthems of self-empowerment that mirror Lyle’s quest to find a way to be his best self.
You will have to suspend your disbelief to enjoy “Lyle, Lyle Crocodile.” Not so much about the singing reptile, he’s a cute and almost cuddly character you’ll fall for. It’s that the beautiful brownstone the Primms buy on 86th Street in Manhattan sat empty for over a year between the time Hector left and the family moved in. That is way weirder than any musical crocodile.