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Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile makes you smile—for a while

Bolstered by a supporting cast featuring Javier Bardem and Constance Wu, Shawn Mendes sings his heart out as the adorable CG carnivore of the title

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Shawn Mendes as Lyle in Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.
Shawn Mendes as Lyle in Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.
Photo: Sony Pictures

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is as good as any movie about a cute singing crocodile has any right to be. Based on a 1960s series of children’s books but updated with contemporary pop songs, GPS apps, and references to America’s Got Talent, it clearly aspires to follow in Paddington’s footsteps, except with an American flavor. Though it lacks the same cultural penetration—and, thankfully, the need to throw its lovable protagonist into terrifying deathtraps—the result is a movie likely to appeal as much to anyone who enjoys pop-scored animal hijinks on TikTok as to anyone who actually remembers the books.

Because studios like money and know that cuteness can be a printing press, Lyle begins the movie as a baby discovered in the back of a dubious pet store by a would-be P.T. Barnum named Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem) who desperately needs a gimmick to enhance his older-than-dirt magician shtick. As reptiles are apt to do, Lyle grows up, developing an ability to dance as well as sing. But when Valenti bets his mortgage on a duet concert between the two of them, Lyle proves too shy in front of a crowd. The showman hits the road to raise more money on his own, leaving Lyle behind in the attic of his family house.


Time passes, and the Primm family move in, adapting to the big city on what must be a pretty large budget given the size of the house. Constance Wu’s Katie was a celebrity chef, but gave it up to become a stepmom, deciding young Josh (Winslow Fegley) needed to be raised on a diet of healthy food uber alles. One senses in such plot points a real resentment by Hollywood types for the fad diets they are regularly forced to contend with. Especially since one of the ways we know Lyle is a force for good is that he keeps rescuing a bag of chocolate-covered cherries from the trash, where Katie throws it.


It’s not long before the Primms discover Lyle because, well, he’s human-sized and sings, loudly and with the voice of Shawn Mendes. Remarkably, his mere presence is enough to help the family get over their biggest inhibitions. Josh, who feels sensory overload every time he steps outside, is soon walking on rooftop ledges. Katie rediscovers the pleasures of pizza and cake. And dad Joseph (Scoot McNairy) revives his inner athlete, becoming a more assertive math teacher. Crocodiles evidently do this sort of thing to people. But all beware of basement apartment-dweller Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman, in what would once have been a stock Paul Giamatti role), who hates noise and is jealous that his (CG) cat likes the new neighbors. And then Valenti suddenly resurfaces!

Even by the heightened-realty standards of children’s books, Lyle himself doesn’t make a lot of logical sense. He understands English and can sing it perfectly—including songs he comes up with himself!—but can’t otherwise speak. Even the Transformers movies’ Bumblebee style, communicated in song snippets, would seem an obvious compromise. Also he’s lived alone in the attic for most of his life, surviving on dumpster-diving excursions, but also skilled enough as a cook to impress Katie. It’s probably best to just assume he’s magic—and not Valenti’s half-assed kind, either.

But Grumpy Cat doesn’t make a lot of sense either, and the principle is basically the same—a cute, potentially threatening critter whose adventures, and personality, can easily be broken into meme-sized bites. Under the direction of Will Speck and Josh Gordon (Blades Of Glory), the action moves from one funny-cute moment to the next, with overarching plot strokes every adult in the room will see coming. The only real dud moment comes during the obligatory second-act-break sad song, where, rather than properly staging the number, the movie relies on a montage of moments we’ve mostly already seen. Even for the sort of musical that has only a few songs repeated multiple times, it feels like a cheap-out, as if the filmmakers ran out of money for CG croc stuff and never got back around to fixing it in post.

LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE - Official Trailer (HD)

Bardem, Wu, and McNairy aren’t the sort of actors one customarily finds in a family film like this, but they all commit fully, singing and dancing as required, and keeping things from becoming too cloying or pointlessly tearjerking. Lyle faces mild peril at best (his most terrifying foe is stage fright). Mercifully, Speck and Gordon understand that nobody watches cute animal videos if they think those cute animals might actually die.


As for Mendes, unless he did motion capture, it’s hard to say he “plays” Lyle. He recorded some songs, and animators make them come from Lyle’s mouth. His voice is fine—minus the sort of histrionics (and auto-tuning) that ruins a lot of kid-pop—but it seems fairer to credit visual effects artists for making Lyle’s eyes so soulful, and his body language both funny and comprehensible.

Will Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile replace Paddington 2, or even equal it, in the hearts and memes of Film Twitter and/or Nicolas Cage? Probably not, since Paddington’s ability to speak lets him impart more gentle life lessons. But filmgoers with their own families—especially ones susceptible to an earworm pop song or two—may soon find themselves desperately searching the stores for plush crocodiles.