Some of you may have seen the recent trailer for Sony’s upcoming, live-action/animation hybrid family film Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile and thought, “What the fuck?” Naturally, I was one of those confounded voices.
In the trailer, a mom (Constance Wu), a dad (Scoot McNairy) and their son (Winslow Fegley) discover a crooning croc splashing about in their bathtub. Hijinks ensue, with the help of Javier Bardem in what appears to be Jester Mode.
Though at first I foolishly assumed that Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile was some inane, original premise, I realized I was giving Hollywood a little too much credit. I had a lingering hunch in the back of my mind that, as ever, originality could not be the case. There was something a little too familiar about that title, and I felt my sleeper agent programming reactivating…
A quick Google search confirmed my suspicions: The Lyle series included nine children’s books, written by Bernard Warber, about a loveable crocodile named Lyle. Starting in 1962 with The House on East 88th Street, the series was succeeded by the sequel, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile in 1965. I remember reading and enjoying both of these books, among others in the series, as a kid. The stories watch the Primm family, who live in an old Victorian brownstone alongside the friendly crocodile, as they and the people around them learn to love and accept their scaly pal. Naturally, this idea was ripe to be adapted by the masterminds behind The Greatest Showman, Dear Evan Hansen and Office Christmas Party. And as voiced by Canadian heartthrob Shawn Mendes, Lyle was destined to sing hollow, forgettable pop songs that you hear on IHeartRadio (the song Mendes sings in the trailer is allegedly original to the film, yet I’d already heard it).
Based on the trailer, Sony’s version seems to stay relatively in-line with the first two Lyle books: The Primms move into their new home and discover an unexpected roommate, Lyle, whose existence is threatened by the grumpy Mr. Grumps (Brett Gellman) and is helped by his former owner and performing partner, Hector P. Valenti (Bardem).
This is actually not the first on-screen adaptation of Warber’s books. HBO brought the story of Lyle the Crocodile to TV in animated musical form back in 1987, as part of their “Storybook Musicals” series. Though HBO’s take on the material 35 years ago was far cruder in style than what the movie magicians over at Sony Pictures are able to concoct, the new interpretation of Lyle as a pop-inflected extravaganza—as opposed to a humble, quirky little narrative about a family who lives with a crocodile—might feel absurd, but is completely on-par with today’s film adaptations of children’s media.
I’m not questioning why Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile exists, nor am I doing the little worn-out song and dance of wondering “Who asked for this!?” (Although, I am a little curious: Do children still read these books? Does Lyle have cult popularity among Gen Z? What did the algorithm say to qualify this as a worthwhile endeavor? I’m old and out of touch—I don’t know what’s going on!) I just don’t see a reason for Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile to receive the adaptive, budgetary scale of a film like The Greatest Showman. Why does every children’s film about “family” and “acceptance” need production levels that are magnitudes grander than the source text?
Perhaps, it’s this tweet, envisioning 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy breathlessly informing Liz Lemon that they got Shawn Mendes to voice the crocodile, that sums up the existence of the Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile movie the best. To go a step even further into real-life 30 Rock territory, Mendes told People Magazine that voicing the CGI crocodile “felt natural” (???), going so far as to claim that he related to both the story and the character (of a singing crocodile who hangs out in a bathtub).
I guess, if nothing else, I’m glad that the “Stitches” singer is able to live his truth.
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.