Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is an undeniably gonzo experience, but it’s ultimately not much more than an oddball visual accompaniment to the film’s sure-to-boom soundtrack.
Josh Gordon and Will Speck’s live-action/CGI hybrid Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, based on the beloved 1965 children’s book, desperately wants to be America’s answer to the critically acclaimed Paddington film series, to the point that the strain is evident in nearly every frame. That this is a rather ironic fate seems lost on Gordon and Speck, as Paddington works so well because its warmth and innate joy for life feel so effortless, the series akin to a warm blanket on a chilly autumn night. Perhaps the problem lies in the titular character, a scaly mass of zeroes and ones whose particular body structure doesn’t allow for the emotive capabilities organic to a fedora-sporting bear. Lyle basically narrows his eyes when he gets mad and lets them do that Puss in Boots thing when he’s happy, and that’s pretty much it, save for a moment where a fellow crocodile farts and he waves his little claw in the air. The other peculiar trait about Lyle is that he can sing but is unable to talk, a truly perplexing bit considering the crooning croc is capable of ad-libbing lyrics into various famous songs. Pop star Shawn Mendes shows up to the provide the singing voice for Lyle, though the lack of speech makes one wonder if his voice acting was so bad that the producers finally threw up their arms and demanded to make him mute. As a performer, Mendes gets a lot of flack from music lovers, consensus deeming him rather soulless, and while it’s true that the majority of his hit songs are indeed inane, dude has a undeniable set of pipes on him, and he sings the hell out of a variety of original tunes here, courtesy of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the wunderkinds behind the blockbuster soundtrack for The Greatest Showman. In fact, Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is nothing if not a showcase for the duo’s musical stylings, and much as was the case with The Greatest Showman, the songs are poppy confections that will get your toes tapping but which don’t have much stylistic depth or variance.
“Wait?” you may be asking yourself. “Does Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile have a plot? The answer is yes, enough to fill four movies twice over. As the film opens, Javier Bardem’s struggling showman Hector P. Valenti arrives on the set of the blockbuster reality competition series Show Us What You Got! to offer up a display of his limited magician skills. As the producers helpfully explain to him, he’s a much better singer-dancer, but they also don’t want to see his stupid face again. Dejected, Hector wanders into an exotic pet shop and hears a baby crocodile in the back of the shop singing along to a tune from the radio. Understandably enthralled — singing crocodiles are quite rare in the wild — he immediately scoops up his young charge, soon to be named Lyle, and takes him home, dollar signs in his eyes. The crocodile grows up as they perfect their routine, but it turns out the reptile with the voice of an angel has stage fright, and so opening night is a trainwreck, even though those in attendance should’ve realized they had already gotten their money’s worth by witnessing a crocodile standing on his hind legs while adorned in an adorable sequined jacket. Unable to pay back his investors, Hector hits the road and leaves his singing sensation alone in the attic, essentially abandoning the poor guy.
Skip ahead several months and a new family is moving into the townhouse, unaware that a massive reptile is listening to an iPod mere feet away while watching their every move. The Primm family consists of Dad, (Scoot McNairy), a math teacher, Mom (Constance Wu), a successful cookbook writer currently on a career break, and son Josh (Winslow Fegley), a ball of nerves afraid of everything. It isn’t long before Josh discovers their new roommate, with Lyle inspiring him to take risks in order to live life to its fullest, which here involves climbing on precariously high ledges, dumpster diving, and eating garbage. Mom is the second to learn of Lyle’s existence, and they bond after he sings her a song about how her rigid and structured life is bullshit and she needs to “throw away the recipe,” which is a rather rude way of saying that her entire career path is a joke. Mom becomes so transfixed by Lyle that she continuously draws pictures of him, at one point having him pose seductively a la Rose in Titanic. Make no mistake, there is the strong and frightening implication that Mom wants to wear Lyle as a leather bustier and thong. Indeed, Dad ultimately confronts Mom, accusing her of infidelity because she is — and this is a direct quote — “happy,” a plot detail this film doesn’t even have the wherewithal to unpack. Dad finally meets Lyle and is at first jealous, but the two of them bond after Lyle lets him win a wrestling match, because the guy was a high school champion and is absolutely obsessed with his glory days. Before long, Dad is even asserting himself with his students, who previously only saw him as a doormat.
For those keeping track, we are only 30 minutes into this 106-minute film, so to fast-forward: Hector comes back, attempts once more to put Lyle on the stage, he gets stage fright, and downstairs neighbor Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman) alerts the proper authorities, resulting in all sorts of consequences. The most fascinating aspect of Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is that this film — with a script courtesy of Will Davies — has roughly 75 more subplots, many of which are introduced and quickly forgotten, leading one to assume that there is a four-hour director’s cut of this movie on the editing room floor, a rather remarkable achievement considering this version includes a montage filled with scenes we just saw literally minutes before. Of course, how could any filmmaker in his right mind conceive of cutting the moment where Bardem hangs dong in front of Dad after he accidentally walks in on Hector and Lyle showering together? There’s also a scene where Hector is violently thrown from a speeding car, because why not include a bit of mean-spirited violence in your kids’ movie? Bardem is by far the best thing about the film, fully committing to a deranged performance yet making it feel natural in ways only a talented thespian could pull off. Wu and McNairy both look deeply uncomfortable, while Fegley is… limited, and we will leave it at that. Ultimately, Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is too juvenile for its adult viewers, yet too boring for the wee lads and lasses, despite the outright insanity the entire film is predicated on. Those looking for their Mendes fix would be wise to pull on the film’s soundtrack on Spotify and call it a day.