“With a terrific performance from Javier Bardem, some catchy tunes, and a great message, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is the perfect family film for the winter months.” We review Sony Pictures’ Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.
Based on the children’s story of the same name and its prequel The House on East 88th Street by Bernard Waber, ‘Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile’ is now snapping in theaters and is due to hit UK cinemas this Friday. Featuring performances from Javier Bardem, Constance Wu, Winslow Fegley, Scoot McNairy, Brett Gelman, and Shawn Mendes as the titular character, the film has been released at the perfect time. A family movie that doesn’t outstay its welcome, is clean, harmless fun, and delivers a message to all in the audience. That we can be who we want to be without fear. And has a great time doing it.
Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem) is a charismatic magician who is constantly trying out on a national talent show but is rejected, time and again. After another failed audition, he wanders into an exotic pet store where he discovers a singing crocodile, which he names Lyle. Valenti sees Lyle as an opportunity to strike it rich in the talent business. He stupidly places his 3-story Victorian home as collateral for their performance, but Lyle gets stage fright during the premiere, causing Valenti to lose his home. Valenti reluctantly leaves Lyle to fend for himself while he tries to make more money.
Eighteen months later, the Primm family moves into the house. Josh (Winslow Fegley), the young son of Joseph Primm (Scoot McNairy) and the stepson of Katie Primm (Constance Wu) doesn’t like New York at all. He is afraid of everything the city has to offer, and is bullied at his new school. However, one day, he discovers Lyle in his attic. After a fearful first meeting, Lyle saves Josh from a mugger and demonstrates his singing ability, which is the only way Lyle can communicate. Josh has to conceal Lyle from his parents and in particular, his downstairs neighbor Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman). All the while, Valenti returns to once again try and get Lyle to perform with him on the stage.
We have seen this type of film before. And we have seen how the events on the screen play out. But not in such an enjoyable and surprising way. From the start, we are surprised at what we are given here. From the second we meet Lyle, we fall in love with him. And every time he appears on screen, the film lifts so much higher. Yes, we are watching a CGI crocodile sing and dance throughout the film. But we can instantly suspend our disbelief and laugh, cry, and cheer alongside him. And the message the film conveys is done in a tactful, thoughtful, and inspiring way. It isn’t crammed down our throats or thrown heavily in our faces. It is presented in a gentle way that we don’t expect.
Of course, some of what happens is genuinely laugh out loud. Scenes of Lyle being paraded through New York City, dressed in Baseball clothing are hilarious. The scene where Lyle is hanging out of a taxi window is enough to have some members of the audience crying with laughter. It is extremely unlikely to ever really happen. But we are that much involved in the film, are so charmed by it, that we accept it without ever really thinking of how ridiculous it is. And that is to the film’s advantage.
Every member of the cast plays their part well. Young Winslow Fegley has a great future ahead of him, based on his performance here. We can actually believe his fears and torment at times. And we can cheer him on later in the film when the events call for it. His wide-eyed and at times, charming innocence is a major strength in the film as a whole. Constance Wu as Katie Primm is also a highlight. Instead of the usual stepmother with a disbelieving nature, she is kind, caring, and delightful. She does get to share a wonderful scene with Lyle in the kitchen of their home and it is a standout sequence in the film. And the enjoyment of the sequence is down to Constance Wu’s elegant and charming performance.
Scoot McNairy is superb as Joseph Primm. When we first meet him, he is the usual total loser type. But we know that by the end credits, he will have found the inner strength to take on the world. To be the kind of person we all know he really is. McNairy shares a particularly funny scene or two with the CGI crocodile, one of which has the audience howling with laughter. It is totally absurd but also totally brilliant. Brett Gelman as Mr. Grumps is also highly effective. His is the token role of the miserable, stuck-up, self-centered neighbor. The kind we hope to see get their comeuppance by the end credits. And Gelman excels in his role. We hate him when we first meet him. We hate him throughout. And that is all down to Brett Gelman’s performance.
Shawn Mendes has the task of playing Lyle and providing him with his singing voice. And he is a true star. From singing alongside various members of the cast and giving a believable performance, Mendes gives us everything. Lyle is mute throughout the film apart from singing but we can believe that he is real. And when Mendes performs his vocals in the film’s many songs and reprises, we feel as if a warm blanket has been wrapped around us. It is so comforting. And is a genuine highlight in an already enjoyable film. Kids will love Lyle. But I can see a few adults falling for his charms too.
But the real standout of the film comes from Javier Bardem. Usually cast in some villainous or sinister role, Bardem here shows us something we would never suspect. His prowess as a song and dance man is a real surprise and lends the film something it needs. A heart. When we first encounter Valenti, we are immediately suspicious of him. We feel that he will be the real villain of the piece. That he will turn out to be someone we will despise and boo when he appears. And it isn’t a spoiler to say that it isn’t the case at all. Valenti is a troubled soul who really wants to get on in life. To realize his dreams.
Lyle could help him accomplish those desires. But when he can’t give him that, Valenti does what he thinks is best. But he cares for Lyle. And feels bad for abandoning him. Bardem gives us a heartfelt performance here. Adults can banish thoughts of him being a nasty, slimy character. He isn’t. We actually want to cheer him on, to see him succeed. Of course, he does something that will earn him hateful looks later on but he resolves the problem in some brilliant, hilarious ways. And Javier Bardem looks to be having the time of his life in the film. He looks as if he is having fun, and this transfers to the audience.
In total, the film is a real winner. It may not be that original in parts but what it is warms the coldest of hearts. From the opening of the film until the end credits, the audience is swept along in a film that entertains in every aspect. The messages the film contains are not hammered home but gently presented to us. Kids will fall headlong in love with Lyle from the second they see him. And that could mean quite a few letters to Santa this year asking him for a stuffed Lyle under the Christmas tree. But to my surprise, I actually want one to go into my collection myself. That is how much I loved the character and the film.
The film is a complete surprise in many respects. It won’t break the mold or redefine the family movie genre. But it will become a family favorite moving forward. There is great fun to be had here, and not just for the little ones either. With a terrific performance from Javier Bardem, some catchy tunes, and a great message, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is the perfect family film for the winter months. One that will have everyone smiling from ear to ear. See it, enjoy it, and tap your toes at the tunes the film gives us. You most certainly won’t be disappointed.
‘Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile’ is in U.S Theaters now and will open in the U.K on Friday, October 14th. Book your tickets NOW!
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Carl Roberts is the News Editor of The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!