This warm, sweet children's book adaptation does its "crocodile in the city" story justice but doesn't quite rise to Paddington-level greatness. This isn't one of those family films with wink-wink double entendres and jokes; it's geared firmly at single-digit-age audiences (with the possible exception of Mendes superfans who want to support everything the singer-turned-voice actor does). There's not a whole lot to the plot, making it easy for even young moviegoers to follow along. And there's no high-stakes drama or evil force to darken the story. The ensemble all do their best with the material. Bardem hams it up as an over-the-top showbiz performer who can't crack the big time or convince Lyle to sing on stage in front of an audience. Fegley (Timmy Failure) continues to hone his comedic timing as he authentically portrays Josh, a middle schooler who's trying to manage his anxiety at being the new kid in a new school in a big-and-scary new city. Wu and McNairy (who for once gets to play a nice guy) have their own adjustments to make as Josh's well-meaning and supportive parents. Gelman stands out as the mean-spirited (and appropriately named) Mr. Grumps, who cares solely for his Persian cat, Loretta, and his quiet.
The musical's songs, written by Pasek and Paul, the Academy Award-nominated songwriting duo behind Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, and The Greatest Showman, are better than expected, showcasing Mendes' familiar pop voice well. "Top of the World," "Take a Look at Us Now," and the Mendes-penned "Heartbeat" are all commercially viable and evocative songs that go well with the soundtrack additions of established songs like Pete Rodriguez's "I Like It Like That" and, of course, Elton John's "Crocodile Rock." Besides the music, one of the tenderest aspects of the movie is the revelation that Mrs. Primm is actually Josh's stepmother. It's all too common for blended families to be portrayed in the media as antagonistic or hostile, so it's refreshing to see Josh feel close to his stepmother, whom he considers his mom. It's too bad that the movie doesn't lean more into the family's backstory or why Mrs. Primm has become such a worrier. In addition to the overt humor of the singing (but mysteriously not talking) crocodile, this is a story about found family and finding your joy, even when things seem overwhelming.