Film review: Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile knows how to sing (thanks to Shawn Mendes)

I thought I knew where this movie was going. After all, I heard Michigan J. Frog in 1955—or rather, I didn’t hear him after he showed up for the promise of free beer. And he won’t be back on stage until 2056.

OK, either you know the Looney Tunes cartoon about the frog with stage fright, or I’ve deeply confused you for no good reason. Because it’s not hard to understand the premise of

Lyle, Lyle, crocodile

, based on the mid-century children’s book of the same name. It’s a part

To sing

a part

A frog evening

a part


and a part

singing 2


Javier Bardem plays Hector P. Valenti, an entertainer who finds a singing crocodile behind a pet store. They form an instant bond and belt out perfect two-part harmony, but when Hector tries to put Lyle in front of a crowd, the reptilian singer can’t even croak.

Cut to 18 months later. Hector, broken and also broke, had to leave his Manhattan home, now played by the Primms, Mama (Constance Wu) and Papa (Scott McNairy) and young Josh, played by Winslow Fegley.

Lyle still lives in the attic and gradually becomes friends with the newcomers. (Though I doubt the need for three separate scenes where someone gets scared before realizing Lyle is one big softie.) Voiced (and nicely computer-animated) by Canadian superstar Shawn Mendes, Lyle can’t speak, but he can sure sing. This includes classics from the likes of Elton John and Stevie Wonder and new numbers like

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tear up the recipe

created for the film by songwriting duo Pasek and Paul.

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The result is a lighthearted, engaging story and this rare and wondrous pairing that will amuse the kids without annoying the parents. The film contains references to the art from the original books, said to have been scrawled here by Josh’s mother. There is a mild villain in the form of the Primms’ downstairs neighbor the Dickensian named Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman). There’s a peak that turns on obscure New York City housing ordinances, a device I haven’t seen used since

Mr. Popper’s penguins.

Finally, there’s a completely whimsical reference to Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece

The glow

. It’s not scary at all, mind you; just a piece of closet. Are co-directors

Josh Gordon and Will Speck fans of the film? Like a certain saltwater reptile, they don’t speak.

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile hits theaters on October 7th.

3.5 stars out of 5

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