MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile - In Theaters
Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Starring Constance Wu, Javier Bardem
Hector P. Valenti (Bardem) is a magician who is no longer able to impress an audience with his old-timey routines. Dejected, he visits an exotic pet store for inspiration. He has had some success with rabbits; maybe there is something else he can work into his act. He hears singing in the back of the store and discovers a tiny baby crocodile. He takes it home and works out a delightful song-and-dance act with the reptile (which he names “Lyle”). Hector spends money to rent a theater and introduce this wonder to the world. Lyle (with the voice of pop star Shawn Mendes) sings with enthusiasm until the curtain is raised and then – like the singing frog in the Looney Tunes cartoon “One Froggy Evening” – Lyle silently stares into the crowd, filled with performance anxiety. Hector decides to go back on the road, and leaves Lyle in the attic of his Upper East Side townhouse.
Into this building come the Primm family, moving into an apartment to experience New York City for the first time together. Mr. Primm (Scoot McNairy) is a school teacher. Mrs. Primm (Wu) is a cookbook author, and their son Josh (Winslow Fegley) is just nervous about living in a city where he has to figure out public transportation to get to school. Upon arrival they are met by their basement neighbor Mr. Grumps (Brent Gelman) who give them all of his house rules, including a ban on any loud noises at night.
Josh will eventually explore the attic and meet Lyle for himself. Lyle does not speak but only expresses himself through song and body movement. Josh is quickly persuaded to become friends and join Lyle in some adventurous nocturnal city exploring. One by one, each member of the family gets to meet Lyle for themselves. Since Lyle stands on two legs, sings, cooks and wrestles, he is able to meet each of them on common ground.
When Hector arrives back in town, he discovers that he needs the friendship and support of the Primm family, too. Everyone will grow in confidence, understanding, and self-esteem – including Lyle!
The source material - Bernard Waber’s picture books The House on East 66th St. and Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile – are sixty years’ old – but whimsical and universal enough to stand the test of time. The cast is nicely inclusive, and the soundtrack features original songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (The Greatest Showman, La La Land, Dear Evan Hanson) to keep things light and lively (although there are a few too many reprises of “Take a Look at Us Now”).
It’s all perfectly silly but also good-hearted, featuring a blended family that clearly loves and cares for one another. In our current time of division, this film is a refreshing reminder that coming together through life’s challenges can be fun.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A kid’s film about family, friendship, and new possibilities.
Two pitchforks: Two things I did not expect to see in a singing crocodile movie: Fart jokes and a positive spin on dumpster diving.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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