The star of this family adventure is meant to be an eight-foot CGI singing crocodile called Lyle (voiced by Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes). But then along comes Javier Bardem with a thinning comb-over and a moustache to rival Hercule Poirot; giving another lip-smackingly juicy performance, Bardem marches away with the film as flamboyant failed showman Hector P Valenti. Next to his dazzle, everything else about Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, adapted from Bernard Waber’s much-loved picture books, looks a bit average.
It begins when Hector finds adorable baby crocodile Lyle in a New York pet shop. It’s a wackily funny scene: Lyle in his cage singing along to the radio and shaking reptile butt. Spotting the showbiz potential of a musical croc, Hector trains Lyle to perform in a double act, belting out numbers written for the film by La La Land duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. (Their track Take a Look at Us Now is lovely.) Incidentally, although Lyle sings with the voice of an angel, he never speaks in the film, which irritated me – though made perfect sense to the five-year-old I watched with. (Her review of Lyle, Lyle Crocodile is a grinning two thumbs up.)
The trouble for Hector is that Lyle suffers from stage fright. When the show flops, Hector, heavily in debt, does a midnight flit, leaving Lyle the croc home alone. Bardem plays the character’s moral erraticism beautifully: Hector is a mix of happy-go-lucky bonhomie and desperation. Like Mr Micawber, he’s forever convinced his luck is on the turn.
Enter the Primm family, mum, dad and young Josh (Winslow Fegley), who move into Hector’s house. Of course, they are in need of the life lessons that only a singing crocodile can give. This part of the story is disappointingly generic but, still, the film’s good-natured warmth wins the day, just. Stranger Things’ Brett Gelman also gives good baddie as the Primm’s miserable neighbour Mr Grumps, a kid-hating stickler for rules.