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Lightweight ‘Arlo the Alligator Boy’ features catchy tunes, sweet story

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Long gone are the days where there was a sharp and specific line of demarcation between the realms of television and movies. It wasn’t so long ago that TV stars were TV stars and movie stars were movie stars and there was little movement between the two, with the occasional ascendent TV actor making the leap to the big screen and the odd fading movie star moving heading into our living rooms. Movies were important and TV wasn’t. Simple.

Obviously, that isn’t the case anymore, with actors moving easily between the two mediums and prestige television achieving feats of storytelling the equal of any cinematic experience. And the lines blur further with the original offerings of the streaming services landing in both camps.

So if you’re going to tell me that Netflix’s latest animated film is also the pilot episode of an upcoming series – sure. That’s the way the world works now.

Thus we have “Arlo the Alligator Boy,” an animated musical film from director Ryan Crego (who also co-wrote both the script and the movie’s numerous original songs). It’s a sweet, tuneful story of a young boy (who happens to also be an alligator) searching for where in the world he fits in. It’s a search that leads him from the swamps of his adolescence to the bright lights of New York City as he undertakes a quest to find the man he believes to be his father.

The subsequent TV series designs could not be more clear – the film plays much like an extended pilot, introducing the characters who will undoubtedly populate the 20-episode season to come. But there’s no disputing that the characters are charming, the visual style is memorable and the music straight up slaps. Not a bad payoff for investing your 90 minutes.

Arlo (singer Michael J. Woodard in his film debut) is a young alligator-human hybrid living in the New Orleans swamps. Abandoned as a baby, the basket in which he rested made it all the way down to the bayou, where it was discovered by Edmee (Annie Potts, TV’s “Young Sheldon”), a woman living alone in the swamp who took Arlo in and raised him.

But Arlo has never felt like he fit in, sneaking away to look out at the passing riverboats and wondering about the wider world. Edmee finally confesses that she has information about Arlo’s past and the identity of a man who could potentially be Arlo’s father. Armed with this new info, Arlo decides that he’s going to make his way to New York City and find his dad.

However, young Arlo is naïve to the ways of the world. He almost instantly finds himself in trouble, forced to flee from people pursuing him for reasons that he doesn’t even understand. Happily, he happens upon Bertie (singer Mary Lambert in her feature debut), a giant of a young woman who understands what it means to be different.

Before you know it, Arlo and Bertie are riding the rails, only to encounter even more outsiders like themselves. They stumble upon a barn-based boxing match between a farmhand and a sentient ball of fabulous hair named Furlecia (Jonathan Van Ness, TV’s “Heads Will Roll”); Furlecia is managed by a diminutive mouseman of sorts named Teeny Tiny Tony (Tony Hale, “Last Call”). Alia (Haley Tju, TV’s “The Loud House”) is a catgirl who drives the van, while fishman Marcellus (Brett Gellman, TV’s “Stranger Things”) turns up along the way.

This motley assemblage makes its way to New York City in an effort to help Arlo find his dad. But once they arrive in the Big Apple, it turns out that Arlo’s high hopes for his dad may wind up being dashed in some unexpected and complicated ways, even with the help of the dear friends he made in the course of his journey.

For a movie that clearly exists to lay the groundwork for a kiddie TV show, “Arlo the Alligator Boy” is actually pretty good. While it is abundantly clear throughout just how beholden it is to serving as an introduction, the film still manages to engage in some decent storytelling. And honestly, when a movie is this interesting to look at, a lack of nuance in the narrative is much easier to forgive.

Because this movie does look great. The animation style is poppy and colorful, with a wide palate of shapes and sizes on display. The musical numbers are especially delightful, with a couple of them pushing far beyond any aesthetic expectations I might have had coming into the film.

The best thing about “Arlo the Alligator Boy” is this – the little dude loves to sing out his feelings and he has no problem going full pop to do it. The songs are actually rather good, with one or two catchy enough to linger in the days after viewing. It’s standard musical stuff, pushing the story along while also managing to keep things light.

The voice cast is strong. Woodard is clearly here for his singing voice, although he manages to insert the aural equivalent of a wide-eyed grin into just about every line. His relentless optimism should grate; it’s to Woodard’s credit that it doesn’t. Lambert’s here for the singing as well, though she’s charming as well. The famous supporting players – Potts, Hale and Van Ness, as well as Jennifer Coolidge and rock bassist Flea – handle their business accordingly; they’re here for their talents, yes, but they’re also here for the grown-ups to recognize.

“Arlo the Alligator Boy” is perfectly fine. It’s a sweet story with a good message that is also an obvious launching pad for another project. As such, there’s an unavoidable lightness to it, an understanding that the end is just the beginning. And that’s the reality of the never-ending streaming content cycle.

Who knows? Maybe a few years pass and before you know it, we get “Arlo the Alligator Man.”

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 19 April 2021 16:53

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