A SOLID FAMILY MUSICAL THAT
PLENTY OF SONG IN ITS HEART
Adapting a well-familiar and / or popular narrative from literature has been around for quite some time, with Hollywood finding interest in proven stories to translate into cinematic tales. Within this grouping selective “page to screen” film adaptations, the idea of children or kid’s literature has always been fertile ground for producing kid-friendly movies throughout the years….be it animated or live-action. With so many authors out there (both classic and newer titles), the choices are numerous and bountiful, especially in extrapolating some of the most popular children’s books, including both chapter books and picture books, that are ripe for a silver screen treatment. Such perfect examples of these have derive from some memorable motion picture iterations of beloved stories, including Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1982’s The Secret of NIMH), Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand (2017’s Ferdinand), a variety of Dr. Seuss’s works (2008’s Horton Hears A Who!, 2012’s The Lorax, and 2018’s The Grinch), multiple novels from Roald Dahl’s (1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1996’s James and the Giant Peach, 1996’s Matildao, and 2016’s The BFG), and several pictures books from Chris Van Allsburg (1995’s Jumanji, 2004’s Polar Express, and 2005’s Zathura) just to name a few. Now, Sony / Columbia Pictures and directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon present the latest film adapted from children’s literature in the movie Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile; based on works by Bernard Waber. Does this “book to film” of this feature film reimagining translates well to the silver screen or is it a messy and shallow endeavor that can’t speak to its source material?
Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem) is a charismatic and aspiring entertainer yet has struggled to find his way into show business and unable to impress others with his magic tricks and stage performance. While dealing with yet another failure of magic act, Hector hopes to change the course of his career with an exotic animal, soon discovering Lyle (Shawn Mendes), a special crocodile with an incredible singing voice. Hope to cash in all Lyle’s musical talent, Hector spends all of his money to the crocodile a star, but soon learns that the reptile is painfully shy, unable to come alive before the masses. Disappointed, Hector leaves New York City to find a paycheck, leaving Lyle in his home. Sometime later, new owners Katie Primm (Constance Wu) and Joseph Primm (Scoot McNairy) take up residence in Hector’s building, joined by their son, Josh (Winslow Fegley), who’s struggling at school, feeling an outsider in his new surroundings. His life improves when he meets Lyle, who tries to communicate through song, working to help his new family deal with self-esteem issues.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
When I was younger, I had very little interest in reading. Yes, I did eventually become a great reader as became an adult, but reading when I was younger, especially elementary and middle school, was very difficult for me as I lacked confidence to read due to my learning disability (was never self-conscious about it). However, seeing a wide variety of movies that were based on children’s literature narratives was my “gateway” of learning kid’s stories…. both classical and modern tales from authors. By doing this, I gained an appreciation for movie storytelling (and my love of films in general) and the stories behind told within the original source material (of which the movie was based off of). Stuff like The Secrets of NIMH, Matilda, Mary Poppins, and The Wizard of Oz were some narratives that I learned from watching the movies as well as several other popular stories from prominent children’s authors. Naturally, some of the kid’s picture books I remember having my parents (and grandparents) reading them for me as bedtime stories and recalled watching the film adaptations when they were released in film iterations, including Jumanji, The Polar Express, Where the Wild Things Are, Ferdinand, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. To summarize this paragraph, I believe (and do strongly urge others out there) that a great way to get kids reading is to choose particular books / novels that are paired with movies, which will allow a person’s mind and / or their imagination to grow, flourish, and get lost in some colorful and meaningful tales for all ages and reading levels.
This brings me back around to talk about Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, a 2022 animated / live-action hybrid musical comedy and the latest film adaptation of children’s literature. Since I used to work at a bookstore for more than 15 years, I do remember hearing about the movie’s source material, for I use to shelve many books throughout my bookstore tenure, which included kid’s picture books. I do recall remember seeing / shelving Waber’s picture books (The House on East 88th Street and Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile), but never read them. Even when I was growing up, I didn’t have a chance to read this book. Yet, I knew of it. So, when I vague heard that Sony was going to develop a film surrounding Waber’s novel of a crocodile that lives in a Victorian House in the city (with a family), my interest perked up a bit. After that, I really didn’t hear much about the project until the film’s movie trailer dropped during the summer of 2022. I did see the trailer many times when I went on my weekly outing to the movie theater during the “coming attractions” preview, especially for mostly PG or PG-13 films that I went to see. From the trailer alone, it looked pretty good. Nothing original or anything I haven’t seeing before, but it looked like it was going to be a fun kid’s romp, especially with musician Shawn Mendes singing throughout the movie as well as lyrics being done by minds behind The Greatest Showman songs. From that alone, I was quite interested to see the movie. So, I decided to check out Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile during its opening weekend on October 7th, 2022. However, while I was playing “catch-up” with some of my back catalogue of movie reviews that I needed to get done prior to this feature, I had to push back getting my review done for this movie. On the brighter side, I finally now I have some “free time” to write and share my personal thoughts on this particular film. And what did I think of it? Well, I actually liked it. While it plays a little bit “fast and loose” with its characters and story, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile still manages to be a lighthearted fun and lyrical entertaining endeavor that quite easily a solid “kid friendly” feature for the whole family. It’s not a perfect film, but still has plenty of charm to sometimes overlook those blemishes.
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (will be abbreviating it as “L,L,C” for most of this review) is directed by the duo Will Speck and Josh Gordon, whose collaborations together as directors has produced several comedy endeavors, including Blades of Glory, The Switch, and Office Christmas Party. Given their background in mostly comedic levity narratives, Speck / Gordon seems like capable directors for helming such a project like L,L,C, with a story that has plenty of kid-friendly humor from its source material. Thus, the directors approach the material with a sense of appreciation of the narrative, but also interject their own personal style and flair within the film adaptation; creating a story that speaks to Waber’s books (the movie loosely combines Waber’s “The House on East 88th Street” and its sequel “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile”), yet still manages to stand on its own two feet (much like Lyle…hehehe). Thus, this isn’t just a standard carbon copy of a “page to screen” endeavor, with Speck / Gordon prompting the feature to have its own swagger and nuances that both respects Waber’s material, but also utilizes modern day tropes and aesthetics for a kid’s movie. As to be expected, the movie itself is very cute and charming. From the opening scene to the time the credits begin to roll, Speck / Gordon makes L,L,C quite the endearing to watch and keeps the feature filled with lighthearted tones and antics that will engage its viewers in a whimsical tale. The heart of the feature feels like a kids’ book in a proper cinematic representation and has the fanciful sweetness through much of the scenes…. whether it is comedic gags or lovable family values. It’s all there, so I definitely think that Speck / Gordon hits their marks on making L,L,C quite easily accessible for all ages with a special tale that has meaning as well as being delightful.
Naturally, this leads into the soul of the movie, with L,L,C spinning a lot of universal themes and messages that, while meant for young “juice box” crowd out there, can still be extrapolated and interpreted for the older crowds, including adults. Such big lessons like believing in oneself and tolerance / acceptance are clearly defined in the movie’s narrative, with Speck / Gordon sweetly layering the feature’s story over those moments that don’t come off as “too preachy” or “blatantly obvious” by having genuine feeling when presented. Of course, this is clearly mirrored in both Josh’s personal journey as well as Lyle’s narrative, with both characters coming to terms with their own weakness and overcome that challenging obstacle. This also comes into play with several of the supporting characters in the movie (more on that below). Collectively, these are classics messages to learn, especially in a kids’ moves, but what makes L,L,C stands apart from others is that it has more of tenderness to it all and the attention to detail when those said moments are displayed, focusing on inspirational scenes for palpable effect. Thus, L,L,C is definitely sweet and will tug at your heart.
That’s not to say that the feature is not smothered in gooey mush dramatics, with Speck / Gordon interjecting a lot of comedy into the movie. As mentioned, the film is geared towards kids and / or younger audiences, with L,L,C having plenty of kid-friendly shenanigans and physical gags that have lighthearted moments of levity. It’s nothing new or original, but I chuckle more times that what I was expecting to and I’m sure that target audience will enjoy the juvenile jokes and gags that are presented throughout the movie. All in all, while not the most original and definitive family film, the efforts of Speck / Gordon are still quite admirable in their interpretation of L,L,C, with a feature that is cute, delightful, and will definitely wiggle its way into your tender parts for a “feel good” kids movie.
Of course, the big highlight of the movie is the variety of songs that are being sung throughout the movie, with musician Shawn Mendes singing them through the character of Lyle. This selling-point is big hit for the movie as I’m sure it will be a major one for the feature’s intended target audience, with songs being written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind such musical lyrics in The Greatest Showman and Dear Evan Hansen. Thus, (and this comes at no surprise) that the lyrics to the songs featured in L,L,C are top-notch and deliver on its catchy melodies and meaningful wording. The movie’s big song “Take a Look at Us Now” is played multiple times throughout the movie and, while it does a little bit repetitive, the music will definitely long after you watch the movie, with its poignant yet infectious hooks and lyrics. That being said, my personal favorite song in L,L,C is definitely “Top of the World”, which celebratory, energetic, and just an uplifting song to listen. Yes, I will even admit that I downloaded it on iTunes. Other songs in the movie, including “Rip Up the Recipe” and “Carried Away” are still good and fun to listen to (as well as few other pop songs that Mendes’s Lyle sings throughout the movie), but “Top of the World” is still my favorite one of the group.
For the film’s presentation, L,L,C looks exactly what I was expecting the movie to look like by creating fun and almost “storybook” whimsical nature of its background for a family feature. Of course, the movie itself meets the so-called “industry standard” for this endeavor, but that’s not saying what presented on-screen is pleasant to look and something befitting a charming tale of a boy (and his family) living with singing crocodile. Speck / Gordon utilizes the urban cityscape of New York City has the primary setting for the film and has a “playground” feeling for some of the movie’s narrative pieces. Additionally, the multi-story Victorian style home of where the Primm (and Lyle) live in also has a charming appeal to it, which (again) fits into the children’s style of storytelling visual aesthetics. Plus, a lot of the set-pieces, locations, and costume attires also have colorful feel, with heightened sense of vibrancy and playful wardrobe. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” players, including Mark Worthington (production design), Leslie McDonald and David Meyer (art direction), Kathy Orlando (set decorations), and Kym Barett (costume designs), for their efforts in making L,L,C have some cuteness for a fanciful kid’s movie that speaks to its target audience as well as being pleasing to look at from start to finish. Lastly, while I did mention the movie’s musical songs in the paragraph above, the film’s score, which was composed by Matthew Margeson, definitely compliments the feature with its lighthearted tones and family style flavoring (fluttering nuances and heartfelt moments) throughout as well as mirroring the various songs that Pasek and Paul have written.
Unfortunately, L,L,C does have its fair share of problematic areas that draw upon criticism towards the feature itself. It is by no means a trainwreck, but it’s something that hinders the movie from being truly magical. Perhaps the biggest one that I could’ve think of is the many scattered plot holes throughout the entire picture. While I do praise the script in a few crucial / main parts in the film, the movie has several personal threads that some characters follow that aren’t fully developed and / or feel kind of half-baked. This includes Josh’s nervous of adjusting to his new home, new surroundings, and new school as well as several other character personal problems in the movie (more on that below). Thus, the script, which was penned by Will Davises, most likely had something to say for all its characters by having them more fleshed out, but was probably reduced down during the editing process; leaving a lot of character development moments on the cutting room floor. Because of this, L,L,C, while charming, lacks in the misusage of its character, despite the acting talents involved are willing and do try to help elevate their character growth shortcomings. Still, it’s kind of hard to overlook some of the plot holes that the script presents, which makes L,L,C play “fast and loose” with its narrative and fragmented pieces. It’s not deal-breaker for me, but it is noticeable.
This also comes across in the predictable nature that the movie has to offer, with a very formulaic narrative path that the story follows. It’s quite clear to where the tale of the Primm family and Lyle is heading before it actually happens, with similar plot points behind recalled from other children’s movies such as Hop or Sing. I kind of expected this, so it didn’t bother me as much, but it’s hard to look at L,L,C and notice how predictable the movie is, especially when there are other endeavors out their in children’s entertainment that offer more to do and color outside the lines of a feature’s parameters. Additionally, the ending of the movie feels a bit rushed. While the first half of the feature does skip around a bit in its narrative, with chunks of the narrative feeling half-baked and / or missing, the last half hour of L,L,C has a very brisk paced to it where a lot of things start to unfold rather quickly in a somewhat haphazard progression. Of course, what’s presented somewhat works, but it feels like the movie needed an extra five or ten minutes to help create a proper ending climax or even a better organization of how everything is staged and executed in this portion of the film. This seems to be problem with Speck / Gordon (as seeing in Office Christmas Party) as well as Davises’s script, which need a bit more finesse for a better understanding of an ending in storytelling management.
As a minor nitpick, the film’s animation is a shoddy at times. Naturally, this comes up when Lyle is on-screen or several other CGI construct creations. Yes, I do understand that the film did have limited resources to pull from its production budget and doesn’t have latest technology that would be on par with something like a summer blockbuster project. That being said, the actual renderings for its animal characters are a bit too CGI and are kind of stuck in-between being “too animated” and being “realistic”. It’s a minor nitpick, but one can obvious tell of what a CGI creation is….one that is a bit adequate one in a few areas, including Lyle himself. Yes, I mentioned above that I like how Lyle looked, especially since his facial / body movements are expressive, but it could’ve been better looking in a bit convincing manner (or just better CGI effects altogether).
The cast in L,L,C is relatively good, with a few really great standouts. Of course, the acting represented by the selected actors and actresses involved on the project are solid across the board, but a few characters are an either a bit on the limp side and / or too broad to fully hone in on their respective personalities and private journeys that the movie takes them on. Well, let’s start with the best that the movie has to offer, with most notable in the character of Lyle and his previous owner, Hector P. Valenti, who are played by musician artist Shawn Mendes and actor Javier Bardem. Of course, Mendes works certainly speaks for himself, with his musical career having great success. I mean….his song are always being played on the radio and I’ll even admit that I like several of his songs. Perhaps that was one of the reason why many, including myself, had an interest in seeing L,L,C is hearing Mendes’s singing voice coming out of crocodile. The result is something that definitely works, with Mendes having a pitch perfect representation of inherit shy crocodile character that has a big voice for singing. Whenever he performs (be it familiar tune or one that Pasek / Paul created for the movie) the scene immediately lights up and becomes quite magical. Of course, while Lyle doesn’t really have a regular voice (only sings), Mendes still does do the heavy lifting, especially since the film is considered a musical or a musical comedy. To that end, Mendes gives a voice to Lyle and makes the character both interesting and memorable. Let’s also not forget that Lyle (as a physical character) is quite memorable. Yeah, the CGI rendering might be a little bit wonky at times, but he definitely has personality that’s clearly represented with some fun visual gags as well as being very expressive in his facial features. All in all, Lyle (both in Mendes singing and his character) are truly memorable in the movie and it’s a character that you instantly fall in love with.
Similarly, to being memorable in L,L,C, Bardem, who is known for his roles in Being the Ricardos, No Country for Old Men, and Dune, is clearly having fun by being involved in this movie and playing such a character like Hector P. Valenti. Bardem has been played such complex / mature characters throughout his career, so it’s kind of a “breath of fresh air” to see the actor play such a colorful character like Hector in a kids’ feature. Every scene he’s in the movie is a delight to view as Bardem imbues the eccentric attitude and bravado of Hector and generates a lot of laughs in the mischief he makes throughout. Yes, he’s kind of predictable and the lessons his character learns, but Bardem knows that just has fun with the character by laying on his seasoned experience and charm into Hector. In the end, I think that Bardem’s Hector is quite the big “scene stealer” of L,L,C and has such a blast playing such a lively and “larger-than-life character” that’s both charming and endearing to watch.
Behind those two characters, young actor Winslow Fegley (Fast Layne and Nightbooks) does a decent job in playing the main protagonist character role of Josh Primm, a young boy who immediately makes a special friendship connection when he first encounters Lyle in his new home. Fegley definitely fits the bill for such a main character in a kids’ movie, with his wide-eyed energy and acceptance of others as well as his own inherit likeability, makes him to be a prime candidate for such a character like Josh. That being said, his character journey is quite straightforward and, while that’s not technical a bad thing, it is leaves a lot to be desired from his character growth, especially since some material for him (most notable at the beginning of the feature) seems to be missing and / or removed. To that end, I think Fegley was good as Josh, but could’ve been written and further developed more than what was presented. As sidenote, Fegley’s interactions with both Lyle and Hector In L,L,C are wonderful!
Next, Josh’s parents, Katie and Joseph Primm, play good supporting characters in L,L,C, with actress Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat) and actor Scott McNairy (Argo and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) playing those roles respectively. Both Wu and McNairy are capable acting talents and definitely easily slide into their character roles as the loving / concerned parents of Josh, who gets caught up in several antics that involve Lyle. They do have their own personal plights and struggles to overcome and, while they somewhat do get resolved in the story, they do feel a little bit half-baked and could’ve been easily expanded upon. Again, this is where some of the character development material was trimmed and ended up on the cutting room floor. Still, I liked both Wu and McNairy in the movie. Lastly, actor Brett Gelman (Stranger Things and Fleabag) does a good job in playing the character of Mr. Grumps, the Primm’s nosy downstairs neighbor who is very suspicious of the family’s activities. Of course, this particular character is pretty straightforward and acts slightly as an antagonist instigator throughout the movie, but Gelman plays those the characteristic traits in a solid manner and makes for such a memorable character.
What I must also mention is that these particular acting talents certainly do get along when on-screen and interacting with each other, with their chemistry being likeable and genuine, which certainly do help build on their respective characters in the movie. As stated, L,L,C is a kids movie (through and through) and the cast knows that and keeps the family friendly energy up throughout the film.
Perhaps the only character that doesn’t really work in the movie is the character of Trudy, a classmate of Josh who slowly warms up to the newcomer at school, who is played by actress Lyric Hurd (Manifest and Secrets). While I do not discredit Hurd’s acting talent or her involvement in L,L,C, my grip is mostly with character and how she is written into the film altogether. Why? Well, she’s a forgotten supporting player that is mostly absent for a large bulk of the feature’s narrative. Clearly, there seemed to be more to her character (and her friendship with Josh), which probably ended up on the cutting room floor during the editing process. Thus, the character of Trudy is handled in a clunky manner and is mostly a “Deus ex machina” during the ending portion of the movie…. which is slightly disappointing.
Get ready to find your voice and sing with your heart as a young boy discovers when he comes “face-to-face” with a crocodile, who is admittedly shy, but has a huge voice for music, living in his house in the movie. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. Directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon latest film takes a cinematic slice out of Waber’s two kid’s picture books and presents it in a colorful and delightful children’s tale of music and tenderness. While the movie struggles within a few gaps of its storytelling elements (character developments and plot points) as well as being formulaic within its execution, the feature still manages to stand on its own two feet, with special attention thanks to a few key elements in the Speck / Gordon’s direction, a humorous scene, heartfelt moments, catchy songs, and several fun performances (most notable in Mendes and Bardem). Personally, I kind of liked this movie. Sure, it wasn’t hugely original and a few executions during the creative / storyboard process needed to be ironed out or fleshy out better, but (on the whole) the movie was lighthearted enough to make the viewing experience enjoyable and slightly memorable from beginning to end. It definitely speaks to its target audience a lot more than adults out there, but still has plenty to offer and easily accessible for all ages. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a favorable “recommended”, especially for the younger viewers out there as well as an easily solid family movie night selection. In the end, while Hollywood will continue to seek out and churn out more “page to screen” film adaptation for years to come, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile hits its mark more than other endeavors, with a warm and whimsical musical comedy feature that, while not completely original, still manages to find a pleasant rhythm in its humor, heart, and lyric songs, a perfect combination for family fun cuteness.
3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: October 7th, 2022
Reviewed On: November 19th, 2022
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is 106 minutes long and is rated PG for mild peril and thematic elements