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‘Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile’ REVIEW: A musical comedy for kids

By Jerald Uy Published Oct 13, 2022 6:10 pm

Blame my affinity for show tunes, Shawn Mendes songs from the children’s musical movie Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile now play on a loop on my Spotify.

And like the anthropomorphic crocodile, I sing along when I hit the showers. (But don’t worry, I lock my bathroom door.) This junior version of The Greatest Showman, Lyle, Lyle, the Crocodile embraces the innate silliness of author Bernard Weber, adapting his 1962 opus The House on East 88th Street and its eponymous sequel three years after on the big screen. 

I could not stress more that the movie’s strength is the catchy music. The titular adorable reptile only communicates through singing so it is only fitting that he gets the best songs. The songwriting duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote original songs for the movie, effectively capturing what Lyle and the peripheral characters feel in every scene. Pasek and Paul’s “Top of the World” sung by Mendes is the movie’s “This Is Me”, the song they wrote for The Greatest Showman, and La La Land’s award-winning “City of Stars”. 

The movie adapts the aforementioned books with a few changes. The story revolves around the Primms family discovering Lyle living in their attic. Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians, TV’s Fresh Off The Boat) plays Mrs. Primm, whose baking career takes a back seat after marrying math teacher Mr. Primm (Our Brand is Crisis’  Scoot McNairy). They have a child named Josh (Nightbooks’ Winslow Fegley) who is finding a hard time making friends at school. But hold your horses — how an American actress of Taiwanese descent plays a mother to a caucasian kid is explained in the movie.  

Adding the star power to this ensemble is award-winning actor Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) who plays Hector P. Valenti, Lyle’s broke but charismatic previous owner. Bardem’s voice quality is not my cup of tea but it does add realism to the very ridiculous story. The Spanish actor previously sang in Being The Ricardos when he portrayed the role of Lucille Ball’s husband Desi Arnaz. A Hugh Jackman, he’s not. But Bardem perfectly mirrors the character’s near-victory in singing stardom in the movie. You can also see that Bardem is having a lot of fun being in the movie. 

Apart from “Top of The World”, another favorite song from the movie is “Rip Up The Recipe”, a duet between Mendes and Wu. Wu has a theater background and sang a Titanic song in one Fresh Off The Boat episode so she has the chops to go on a singing sparring match with the pop singer. The song talks about letting go of plans and being flexible when things become challenging. The upbeat melody and choreography are among the fantastic sequences in the movie. 

However, the songs do sound like they are playing tracks from a record label. It does catch you off-guard when Lyle appears to be lipsynching a Shawn Mendes song, in contrast to Mendes voicing Lyle. The way the songs underwent post-prod disrupts the musical’s suspension of disbelief. 

Fegley’s acting was genuine. It can be challenging to deliver lines and convey emotions when you’re talking to an inanimate crocodile on the sent. I’d say, keep watch of this child actor as he gets better in his craft. 

The build-up of the movie is pretty good. But after the first conflict has been resolved, the movie tends to be slow and formulaic. The snooty cat parent Mr. Grumps (Stranger Things’ Brett Gelman) is then introduced as the film’s Big Bad, almost caricaturish without any relatable backstory. 

The third act also does not hit the mark. In the book, saving someone from a fire finally leads to Lyle’s acceptance. In the movie, it was drastically changed to performing in a reality talent competition to get people’s approval. If Lyle is a metaphor for minorities, then this is a message of assimilation and not of inclusion. In an era where we have seen a massive shift of support for LGBTQ+ rights, the act appears outdated. It’s saying that for someone to be accepted, one has to achieve a certain level of access so people could turn a blind eye to your identity.  

There’s also the familiar setting of stage performances, making this a derivative of some family movies. The humor is also too family-friendly so the jokes might not hit you. It’s the kind of movie you play during Christmas Day in the background so the children wouldn’t bother you as you prepare the meals. After all, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is created for kids, and probably, shrieking Shawn Mendes fans.  

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is now showing in Philippine cinemas.