In 1962, children’s book author Bernard Waber published The House on East 88th Street, a story in which the Primm family moved into a brownstone in New York City is surprised to discover a crocodile already living there. As if that weren’t shock enough, that crocodile, named Lyle, was full of tricks, able to do feats of agility, strength, and intelligence. The Primm family delight in making him one of their own, accepting him into their hearts as completely as they can, and so did Waber’s readers, making The House on East 88th Street the first in a series of books catalogued Lyle’s adventures. It makes sense, then, that someone would tap the tale (tail?) of Lyle to be made into a feature film. It makes even more sense that said-film would incorporate music and dance in order to both liven up the otherwise mute reptile, leaning into the exotic nature of the talented croc and making the story of Lyle into a proper cinematic adventure. The end result is the Will Speck (Office Christmas Party) and Josh Gordon (Office Christmas Party) co-directed Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, adapted by Will Davies (How to Train Your Dragon), with music from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of The Greatest Showman (2017), a story of finding one’s family, of believing in one’s self, and never settling for the ways things are when they could be so much more.
Star of stage and screen Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem) isn’t getting the notoriety he thinks he deserves and his last rejection may be the thing that seals his fate to failure forever. That is, until he makes the discovery of a young crocodile singing along to the music playing in an exotic pet shop, whom he immediately adopts (and names Lyle) and brings home to train as his performance partner. But there’s a price to fate and things don’t go as Hector envisions, forcing him to go on the road without Lyle. 18 months later, the Primm family moves in (Scoot McNairy, Costance Wu, and Winslow Fegley), and they each process the realization of their sharp-toothed, fleet-footed, angelic-voiced roommate in different ways. Can they co-exist? What does it mean when Hector returns? Is calling yourself a family enough to make one?
For literal months, starting well before Lyle hit theaters, my eldest son has asked me if I was going to see the film. On the rare occasion I went to a press screening, he would ask if it was for Lyle. If I was screening something at home (for review for FYC), he asked if it was Lyle. So, when I tell you that my eldest (young) child became positively jubilant at the review disc’s arrival, this is not an exaggeration. With this information in mind, allow me to give you his opinion of the film first. He says, “I loved it. Singing crocodile — cute. Baby singing crocodile — cuuuuuuuuuuuuute. Would watch it again.” Considering this is an adaptation of a children’s book of which my eldest fits the target audience, I’d say that Speck and Gordon hit a home run. In my capacity as a father, I’d agree completely. The story is sweet, the music is toe-tapping, and the approach to the antagonist is less mustache-twirling villainy and more human. There’s only one moment in the entire film which might upset younger viewers, explaining the P in the PG rating. Outside of this, the whole of Lyle is going to delight the audience that’s its intended for, which, a film of this nature, should count as a win.
In my capacity as a film critic, the main issues are with the script that’s in such a race with itself that much of what we get is surface-level. There’s no real exploration of the complexity of the Primms as this is Mr. Primm’s second marriage after being widowed, the struggle from Mrs. Primm’s perspective as Josh’s mom is suggested from her side but never from Josh’s, the character of Trudy (Lyric Hurd) serves little purpose in the final form beyond what’s needed at the climax, and the real issue of Lyle’s performance anxiety isn’t explored as deeply as it could be in order to get to what the script implies it is. Despite all of these issues, Lyle *is* successful in presenting a story of found family that comes together, not just in some Nanny McPhee (2005) magic way, but through actual listening. It’s not too far a leap that Lyle is as gifted as he is because he listens. Sure, he’s got talent and there’s something going on with this anthropomorphic reptile that’s other-worldly, but he pays attention to what people do and what they say as a survival tool. With each member of the Primm family, he uses something he’s observed to connect with them, his way of showing that he’s not a threat. He shows the Primms that he *sees* them. He uses their vulnerabilities to show them that he’s a safe space. It’s a little detail, but one that pays dividends in creating the emotional portion of the film. My personal issue is that not once does anyone really listen to Lyle when it comes to his lack of confidence, to try to make things smaller for him so as to give him the comfort he offers others; instead, each one just throws him off the deep end and begs for him to swim. Then again, maybe that’s my read on the situation because the CG work is strong enough that the emotionality of the wordless performance shines brightly through the movement and physical delivery that one becomes forgetful of the fictitious Lyle and yearns for him to succeed.
If all the positives sound like your perspective of the film, then the bonus features are only going to fulfill that particular feeling. There’s a brief but adorable set of bloopers (poor Javier can’t seem to keep his balance), sing-a-long karaoke versions of four songs, a single deleted scene (unfinished) that explores Lyle’s lack of confidence, and two formal music videos for “Top of the World” and “Carried Away” performed by artist Shawn Mendes who provides Lyle’s singing voice. These are your basic bonus features on a musical feature and are delightful for those who had a good time with the film and its music. If you enjoy the playfulness of the film, make sure to check out the two-minute+ featurette “Croc and Roll — Lyle on Set” where the cast and crew pretend that Lyle was a real figure on set and how they responded to his presence. It’s really cute. For a more serious behind-the-scenes look at the making of Lyle, head to the seven-minute+ featurette “Take a Look at Us Now” which offers the thoughts of the cast and crew about making the film, including why some decided to take part in the adaptation. Fans of McNairy will appreciate his candor at stating a desire to do something lighter, something where he could just have fun at work, while Bardem wanted to do this so that his kids could see one of his films (a common reason a lot of actor-parents take on roles like this; though not as many are as fully committed and truly scene-stealing as Bardem is as Hector). The last portion of the home release is “Storytime with Shawn Mendes & Javier Bardem,” in which Mendes and Bardem lead the rest of the cast and some of the crew through a reading of The House on East 88th Street. As someone who’s not familiar with the original story, this is a fantastic and endearing way to first experience Waber’s story.
Be advised that the bonus features are split based on format. If you want to enjoy them all, you need to purchase either the 4K UHD, Blu-ray, or digital editions of Lyle. The DVD edition only includes “Croc and Roll,” “Take a Look at Us Now,” and two music videos.
Though I’m the sort who will watch/review just about anything, I took this particular assignment for my eldest. I wanted to cover something that we could share and, for a time, the world was small and it was just the two of us curled up on a couch. Those moments grow ever more fleeting each day, something which Lyle touches on when it stops to focus on Mrs. Primm and her quest to connect with Josh. My child is of my own loins whereas Josh is not of Mrs. Primm, yet her feeling of time and distance is all too familiar. A film like this, just as I imagine the book also does, enables walls to come down and for a parent/guardian to share a tale with their ward. And for that period, all was quiet except for the sounds of a singing crocodile, encouraging us all to throw away the plan and play. A valuable lesson any day of the week.
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Special Features:
4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital Features:
- Sing-Along Songs: Karaoke versions of the original songs “Top of The World,” “Rip Up the Recipe,” “Take a Look at Us Now,” and “Carried Away” from Pasek & Paul (The Greatest Showman). (8:19)
- Storytime with Shawn Mendes & Javier Bardem: Shawn Mendes, Javier Bardem, alongside the cast and filmmakers alternate reading excerpts from the book that set the world of Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile in motion. (9:22)
- Bloopers: Behind-the-scenes blooper reel. (2:09)
- Deleted Scene: Josh Learns about Lyle’s Stage Fright (2:07)
- Croc and Roll – Lyle on Set: We will find out what working with Lyle was truly like with interviews with his castmates and the filmmakers. As they shed light on everything from Lyle’s eating habits to his occasional odor issues, we’ll come to get a better understanding of what Lyle brings to the filming experience beyond his incredible voice. (2:32)
- Take a Look at Us Now – The Cast: From Javier Bardem, Constance Wu, Scoot McNairy and Winslow Fegley to Shawn Mendes, meet the incredible key cast of Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. (7:28)
- Two Music Videos: “Top of the World” and “Carried Away” by Pasek & Paul (The Greatest Showman).
- Croc and Roll – Lyle On Set (2:32)
- Take a Look at Us Now – The Cast (7:28)
- Two Music Videos
Available on digital November 22nd, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD December 13th, 2022.
For more information, head to Sony Pictures’s official Lyle, Lyle Crocodile website.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.