Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile opens with a performer, Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem), entering a pet store and finding a baby crocodile singing in a cage. How can a crocodile sing? The movie never bothers to answer that. Nor does it explain why the store's owner sells Valenti such a remarkable creature, rather than keeping it for himself. Normally, this avoidance of addressing basic, reasonable questions would be a detriment. Could there really be any satisfactory explanation, though? I think not. The film asks viewers from the outset to accept the many absurdities to come at face value. If you can leave all desire for logic at the door, you'll find fun family entertainment that wins you over with its sweet nature.

Valenti tries to turn the croc, whom he names Lyle, into a singing sensation, but the creature has stage fright, leading his owner to abandon him in the attic of the house. Eighteen months later, the Primm family moves in. Young Josh (Winslow Fegley) finds Lyle (voiced by pop singer Shawn Mendes) and they form a fast friendship. Despite Josh's best efforts to hide the crocodile from his father (Scoot McNairy) and stepmother (Constance Wu), they stumble upon his presence in the home. Of course, they freak out at first. Hearing his rousing songs wins them over. Then Valenti returns. Upon seeing how Lyle's singing ability has grown, he begins plotting another attempt at fame.

One of the things I appreciate most about Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is its relative restraint. Kids' movies of this sort tend to lay it on thick with the slapstick humor and potty jokes. Aside from one pretty good gag about a cat with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, there's none of the latter. And instead of slapstick, the film offers more character-based comedy. For example, there are several humorous run-ins with the cranky man (Brett Gelman) who lives in the basement apartment, yet tries to set all the rules for the building. Another funny scene has Lyle riding through Times Square in a car, growing ecstatic over the sights and sounds. Taking this approach allows the movie to be much funnier than if it had gone for cheap laughs.

Entertaining musical numbers are another highlight. A handful of catchy original songs were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of The Greatest Showman fame. Co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory) stage delightful sequences around them. The best finds Lyle and Mrs. Primm making elaborate treats in the kitchen, singing and dancing as they cook. Since Lyle can't talk, he must communicate through song, meaning that the tunes actually compliment the story, as opposed to just feeling shoved in.

By far, the highlight of Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is Javier Bardem. I would not have expected to say this going in, but the actor deserves serious awards consideration for his performance. He successfully makes Valenti a big, flamboyant, live-wire character without seeming obnoxious or creepy. Singing and dancing with boundless energy, he beautifully conveys Valenti's belief that life itself is a non-stop performance. The movie has a singing crocodile, for crying out loud, but the most amazing special effect in it is Bardem.

Literally nothing in the story makes a whole lot of sense. Regardless of that fact, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, based on Bernard Waber's book series, is so relentlessly cheery and upbeat that it works a kind of magic on you. Kids will love Lyle and his antics. Adults will love the force of nature that is Javier Bardem. Everybody wins.

out of four

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is rated PG for mild peril and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.