Arlo the Alligator Boy is a beautiful oddity. It's an animated musical that follows a young alligator boy, voiced by Michael J. Woodard, as he learns that he might have a father in New York City of all places. He takes off to find him and, along the way, he meets an eclectic group of characters and comes to discover that maybe our differences are actually our strengths, and family is what you make it. Through song.
There is also a show, I Heart Arlo, set to pick up on Netflix after the movie at some later date. It's clear that Netflix knows how much potential there is to mine from this concept, which it kind of does but stops short. The movie's strength is also somewhat its weakness as there's never really enough time with the characters, leaving them all feeling a bit thin.
Teeny Tiny Tony, voiced by Tony Hale, is a small mouse-like man with an accent while Alia, voiced by Haley Tju, is a tiger girl. Tony and others get some further exploration, but that about sums up Alia's entire presence in the film. Somehow, Arlo manages to get mixed up with them, and then it's off to resolve his journey without anything deeper to the colorful cast he's found himself within.
In some ways, it feels like the fact that the show exists at all means that the movie is overstuffed to the point it is -- leaving certain threads unexplored -- in order to then leave fertile ground for the show. Taken on its own, however, it comes across as slightly incomplete. Those nitpicks aside, an animated musical is only as good as its music, and thankfully it's spectacular throughout.
Woodard, Mary Lambert, and Vincent Rodriguez III (who voices Ansel) put in excellent performances with the opportunity for each of them to individually shine. Given their backgrounds -- Woodard on American Idol, Lambert's notable feature on "Same Love" by Macklemore, and Rodriguez most recently on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -- it should come as no surprise that they perform well to those familiar with their previous work, but the lot of them have arguably never had the spotlight in the same way as in Arlo the Alligator Boy. The movie is, at its best, a wonderful showcase of their talent.
It also helps that the animation is just as joyful as the movie's music. There are beautiful backgrounds throughout, and for a movie with an alligator boy as its protagonist, it's truly something to say that his character design is one of the more reserved. Marcellus, voiced by Brett Gelman, is a fish man with a fish torso and head and then a man's mostly naked bottom half. Somehow, this manages to be charming rather than offputting, with no small part of that due to the fact that Gelman is hilarious in his role.
In a way, the movie, directed by Ryan Crego with songs written by Crego and Alex Geringas, embraces its themes in its construction. It's not perfect, but the characters like Bertie, voiced by Lambert, animation, and songs are compelling, interesting, and fun. Arlo's journey is complicated by situations only he with his relentless positivity can resolve, and it's hard not to come away with the same feeling of optimism at the end of it.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Arlo the Alligator Boy is set to release on Netflix this Friday, April 16th. It will be followed by a show, I Heart Arlo, on the same streaming service at a later date.