If there’s one area that Netflix has shifted a bit of its focus to for original content in recent years, it’s the animation department. While some of their animated shows have been great, none of their animated movies has been knock-out-of-the-park material or memorable (if memory serves right) for this critic. And while I liked Netflix’s Over the Moon, released last year (and is now nominated for Best Animated Film at the upcoming Oscars), I wasn’t over the moon (insert chuckle here) about it. However, Netflix has a gem with Arlo the Alligator Boy, which drops on Netflix tomorrow. This sweet, wonderful 2D animated tale is a must-see for families and animated film lovers alike. Filled with great original songs and a message that should resonate with all, Arlo the Alligator Boy is an animated musical we’ll be talking about for the rest of the year.
Arlo the Alligator Boy tells the story of a half alligator, half boy with a beautiful singing voice who’s raised in a southern swap. Sheltered from the outside world, he soon learns from his Aunt Edmee, who raised him as if he has a father he never knew about from New York City. Arlo soon sets his sights on the Big Apple with the goal of discovering his family roots. Along the way he meets a wide array of unique and hilarious characters, charms and sings his way from one great musical number to another, and has a little self-discovery as the story progresses. This journey from the swamps to the big city moves at a brisk pace and clocks in at less than an hour and a half, but is an absolute joy from start to finish.
From the start, you’ll find yourself taken in by this story and Arlo, a youngster who knows very little about the real world. We watch as he tries to make sense of things while interacting with all the creatures and humans, both big and small, that inhabit his universe. I couldn’t help but grin frequently at Arlo with every song he sung and every interaction he had. By the time the credits rolled, I was filled with warmth, thanks to the movie’s charm, message, outstanding music from Ryan Crego and Alex Geringas, and beautiful 2D animation (a rarity these days!). In a story about self-discovery, not only for Arlo, but also for most of the characters we are introduced to, it presents a message about being yourself that we can all get behind. We’ve seen this theme countless times in family movies, but it really strikes a chord here in a way that makes you feel compassion for these cartoon characters. And that, to me, has a deeper meaning than what I’m used to seeing from most animated movies.
Michael J. Woodard as Arlo is Grade-A with both dialogue and singing, considering he is relatively unknown outside his appearance on American Idol a couple of years ago. I can only imagine that interest in his voice will pick up once again after this release, as his performance is the driving force behind the feature. Other spotlight voice cast members include Mary Lambert as Bertie, a tall teenage girl who befriends Arlo, Brett Gelman (The Other Guys), a fish with legs that provides some of the movie’s biggest laughs, and the beloved Tony Hale (Arrested Development) as a creature called Teeny Tiny Tony. These are just a few of the outstanding members of a voice cast that make for a wide array of entertaining characters who will have both kids and adults laughing.
It’s been a while since I watched an animated film that was as uplifting as Arlo the Alligator Boy. Showing audiences how we belong in this world, you will be astonished at how the music weaves in and out of the story, making for a joyful conclusion for all its characters. Belonging in this world can be a difficult thing for many of us, but Arlo and his friends show us just how bright and colorful we can be if we feel comfortable enough. While plenty of the year still remains, Ryan Crego’s Arlo the Alligator Boy will without a doubt be one of the best animated movies of the year, while also making a strong argument for being the best. This weekend, you and the family should sit down and watch this movie. Trust me, you won’t want to miss this gem.
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