Written by: Robin C. Farrell | April 15th, 2021
Arlo the Alligator Boy (Ryan Crego, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Hats off to Ryan Crego for his directorial debut, Arlo the Alligator Boy. The gorgeously animated musical-feature film follows the titular half-human, half-alligator as he embarks on a journey to New York City, befriending a group of quirky outsiders that join and aid Arlo on his quest to find his father. The visuals remain consistently compelling while the music – each song a winner – is threaded into the film organically, lending to the film’s overall artistic cohesion. Arlo himself is a real charmer, due in equal parts to the writing and the vocal performance by newcomer Michael J. Woodard. Arlo’s optimism and plucky attitude, miraculously, never becomes grating, and the relationships he forms – with friend and foe – feel earned.
The film is mostly a fun ride and shows a lot of promise, so you really feel the few areas where it stumbles. Presumably, the intended audience is “the whole family,” but it doesn’t quite span the full range from kids to grown-ups. The humor often strikes a bizarre chord: too mature for young children but too temperate for adults. There are laugh-out-loud moments, but fewer than the emotionally resonant ones, which are much more rewarding.
The film also runs a bit too long. Though the musical numbers are entertaining, some just aren’t necessary, particularly when placed back-to-back with dialogue that expresses the same sentiments. The film, too, seems prone to episodic storytelling (good news for the forthcoming spin-off series, I Heart Arlo).
Much of the movie is comprised of vignettes that, yes, build on each other, but don’t always impact the overall story. Rescuing a character midway through the film, for example, does little besides adding another character to the troupe, who, frankly, seems largely disinterested in the rest (especially Arlo). Most of all, though, the answer to the burning question at the center of Arlo’s journey is drawn out far too long, cryptically built up as more complex than it is. An imperative aspect of backstory is all but hand-waved away without any comeuppance and thus becomes the most jarring aspect of the film, diverging from the otherwise good-natured intentions.
While the flaws are worth exploring in a broader context, the themes of friendship and doing the right thing emerge most strongly. Structurally speaking, Arlo the Alligator Boy concludes with a satisfying amount of closure but leaves plenty of room for continuing adventures. If you – or your kids – enjoy this film and want more, the forthcoming I Heart Arlo will likely be quite welcome.