Charismatic-but-failing magician Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem) has come up with a new act - a singing crocodile (voice of Shawn Mendes) named Lyle. When he tries to bring Lyle's talent to an an audience, Lyle gets stagefright and Hector is forced to move out of his home in New York. Almost two years later, a family (Scoot McNairy, Constance Wu, Winslow Fegley) move into the home and discover Lyle and his ability, but it's not before long that others in the neighbourhood start to notice, and when Hector returns home, things get even more out of control...
Although the children's books have been around since the '60s, 'Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile' feels like it came into being as a direct result of the much, much better 'Paddington' and its sequel. They're eerily similar, too. Family takes in friendly but misunderstood animal that has unusual talent or ability, and by showing it to the world, they can make the world a better place. Yet, there's a key difference between 'Paddington' and 'Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile'. Where 'Paddington' was an allegory for refugees, 'Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile' seems to be saying that Lyle isn't fit to live among people unless he bears his talent to the world to show that he's just like them.
Maybe that's a harsh reading of it, but the moments in 'Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile' where the crocodile isn't singing or dancing is much too weird to make sense of. Again, taking another example of recent kids' movies involving magical animals - 'Clifford the Big Red Dog' - the weirdness was the point. It was a giant red dog. Here, nobody's really sure what to do with Lyle and just accepts that he can sing without any kind of investigation or development. He's just his talent, nothing else.
Academy Award-winning actor Javier Bardem may seem like an odd choice to play the washed-up, all-singing, all-dancing star of stage and screen, but the way he flings himself across it in a flop sweat is a sight to behold. Scoot McNairy is equally an odd choice, as he's so often at his best when playing complex and difficult characters. Here, he's a standard, cookie-cutter American dad along with Constance Wu, who's some kind of recipe writer - but again, none of it makes any odds to the story. The real emotional core is the relationship between Lyle and their son, played by Winslow Fegley, but it's pretty rote stuff and ultimately becomes unconvincing by the end.
The main engine of 'Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile' is the singing and dancing from the CGI crocodile and Shawn Mendes, and that's where it's at its best. The songs are annoyingly catchy, exactly what you want a family musical to be, and will most likely put the whole thing over with audiences more than anything else in it. Mendes' voice is naturally incongruous with the CGI character, but that's the point - why would a crocodile have a falsetto voice, let alone any singing voice in the first place?
'Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile' will not win over parents or adults taking kids to see this, because the story is much too stale and bland for it to have an impact. Kids will get a kick out of it, and the musical moments are where it soars. But outside of that, 'Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile' flattens itself and sinks.