Review by Daniel Blackaby October 13, 2022
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (Christian Movie Review)￼
Verdict: A flawed but wholesome story with enough catchy songs to mask its shortcomings.
About The Movie
Audiences with an itch for some crocodile rock need not wait any longer. Based on the beloved children’s book by Benard Waber, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is the story of a singing crocodile named Lyle (voiced by pop star Shawn Mendes). I admit, this movie is slippery to review. My music-obsessed 7-year-old twin boys loved it. This is their Top Gun: Maverick. I certainly didn’t hate it, but I’m not quite as enthusiastic to sing its praises. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is a film that succeeds in what it aspires to do, despite its flaws.
The movie is first and foremost a vehicle for music and dance. Lyle the crocodile doesn’t talk; he sings, communicating entirely through music (there’s a metaphor there somewhere). Much of the storytelling takes place through song. Shawn Mendes is not a staple in my music rotation (narrow-minded metalhead that I am), but he can certainly sing, and the songs are catchy and fun. The choreography and cinematography work to keep the steady parade of musical scenes interesting through clever cuts and transitions. When we returned home from the theater, my kids immediately asked Alexa to play the soundtrack, and they proceeded to dance and sing around the kitchen. Mission accomplished there.
But beyond the music, the plot is noticeably thin. There is little tension and low stakes. The “villain” is left on the fringe of the story. The movie deals predominantly with internal rather than external conflict. The story unfolds episodically as Lyle helps his family members rediscover their lost confidence. The characters are likable, even if they follow all the standard tropes (the son is the clever but shy kid at a new school, etc.). I appreciate that the movie showcases each member of the family (and doesn’t force unnecessary inter-family drama). Yet most of each character’s growth happens over the course of a single song, making the progress feel rushed and unearned. Apparently, one-and-a-half minutes of a singing crocodile is all it takes for an uptight and anxious mother to morph into a free spirit, frolicking through the city at night, dumpster diving, and indulging in other juvenile behavior like eating pizza for breakfast. Of course, in a movie where everyone seems unfazed by a giant singing reptile wearing a scarf, maybe it’s better not to get hung up on such things.
Is Lyle, Lyle Crocodile a great movie? Not really. Is it a film kids will enjoy and parents won’t dread? I think so. It’s a wholesome and positive movie, if not terribly clever. It’s filled with fun songs but oddly short on humor. It has heart and a good message but little sophistication. In a time when children’s entertainment can often feel like a minefield for parents, perhaps a wholesome musical is all it needs to be. The movie suggests that there is a magical power in music to overcome a plentitude of shortcomings or flaws, and the silky voice of Shawn Mendes seems up to the task.
On the Surface
Profanity: There are 3-4 uses of “OMG,” and a handful of other rude words (“stupid,” “I hate you,” etc.).
Sexuality: A woman wears a sports bra while exercising. In multiple scenes, characters walk in unexpectedly on other characters in the shower (nothing is visible). The husband notices his wife is extra happy and questions whether “there is someone else” in her life (there isn’t).
Other: Alcohol is discussed and consumed in several scenes. A kid repeatedly engages in “unsafe” behavior, such as sneaking out at night, running through traffic, and even driving a motorcycle. While far from the first children’s film to depict such behavior, some parents might take issue with it.
Beneath The Surface
Engage The Film
On the surface, the movie is clearly about the power of music. Beneath the surface, there is also an uplifting theme about the importance of family. The movie explores the interdependence of family and how each member can positively or negatively impact others. The family is not strictly biological; it is also about “found family.” Constance Wu’s character is a stepmother (and, as a breath of fresh air, the directors steer away from the stereotypical tropes of stepparents needing to “win over” their stepchildren). Lyle is essentially an adopted member of the family.
Family—in any form—is shown as a source of strength. Each of the family members struggles with self-esteem. The son lacks confidence to make friends in his new school; the father is overwhelmed in a new job; the mother struggles to adapt as a parent to an older child; and Lyle battles severe stage fright that prevents him from showcasing his musical talent in front of an audience. By strengthening their bond as a family, the characters overcome their problems. Due to the “found family” approach, the theme could also work as an illustration of the church.
There is a subtle reflection of individualism and self-expression throughout. Fittingly, the climactic scene occurs on the stage of a TV talent show, with “acceptance” seemingly tied to the need to share one’s talents with the world. Earlier, when the son finally makes a friend at school, it is represented by a social media friend request.
While not nefarious, the theme reflects some worldly ideologies that the ideal achievement and action is self-expression and acceptance. Even so, at the end of the film, the now-famous Lyle seems to forgo the fame and fortune of a worldwide singing tour to go on a vacation with his family, which provides a counterbalance to this idea.