Review: Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

Though I was the age that would have been the target at the time for the first of Bernard Waber’s series of children’s books about a singing crocodile that appeared in 1962, this live-action/CGI musical version is my first encounter with the story, which may account for my skeptical impression. Aside from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s original songs, which are mostly sung by pop idol Shawn Mendes, the concept comes across as too simplistic for a big-budget film. In fact, while Lyle the crocodile is the center of attention, the fact that he doesn’t express himself in speech, only song, limits him as a compelling personality. You really do imagine the other actors reacting to mute, green-clad body doubles as they perform.

The cast is certainly game. Javier Bardem is creepily chipper as the anachronistic stage performer and impresario, Hector Valenti, who, down on his luck after his sleight-of-hand shtick is rejected, happens upon Lyle warbling in the back of an exotic animals shop in Manhattan. He purchases the lizard and raises him to sing popular songs in the hopes that he can make a fortune, but when he gets his chance, Lyle chokes from stage fright and Hector is forced to go on the road to make money, leaving Lyle alone in his attic apartment. Though the idea of abandoning what is now a full-grown crocodile in a New York City apartment alone for months at a time challenges whatever capacity you have to suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment, the bewilderment is compounded by any knowledge you may possess of just how high rents are on W. 88th Street these days, and, yes, the movie is clear in its assertion that it takes place in the late 2010s. Bewilderment then reaches meltdown proportions when a math teacher (Scott McNairy) moves into the same apartment building with his family. Fortunately, his wife (Constance Wu) writes cookbooks for a living that must make a ton of money, because there is no way a public school teacher can afford such beautiful digs on the upper west side. Nevertheless, the couple’s misfit son, Josh (Winslow Fegley), accidentally discovers Lyle upstairs and an inter-species, but mostly one-sided, friendship ensues.

Lyle, of course, despite his heft and length and sharp teeth, is not a danger to anyone, but much forced fun is had by all as Josh and then other members of his family endeavor to shield Lyle from the authorities and, more immediately, the grumpy middle aged NIMBY guy (Brett Gelman) renting the basement apartment; that is, until Hector returns and uses his magical powers of persuasion to set things right and put Lyle back on the road to show biz stardom. Though the script occasionally lightens up with a transgressive idea—Lyle sustains himself not by devouring the city’s storied vermin but by means of late-night dumpster-diving excursions—it’s fairly pedestrian in its aim to provide wholesome family entertainment, though I can’t imagine any kid, no matter what age, preferring this to Spider-Man

In Japanese subtitled and dubbed versions. Opens March 24 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-50609, Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2022 Sony Pictures Digital Productions Inc.

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