Wednesday, May 29, 2024

‘Arlo the Alligator Boy’ Looks at Friendship and Otherness

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Arlo the Alligator Boy is a harmless, sweet kids movie. Its biggest flaw is it won’t be that interesting to anyone outside its target age demographic. Kids may love it; adults may find themselves with an eye to the runtime and wondering how much of this treacly ode to the unloved and misbegotten is left.

To be fair to writeer and director Ryan Crego, Arlo is a feature-length movie that is less about telling a concise story and mainly a premiere for a new Netflix animated series. In that regard, much of my adult issues of Arlo make sense. Complaints such as overly long and poorly paced make sense when you realize these are characters designed for twenty-minute short episodes and not feature-length movies.

The movie is about a young abandoned Alligator boy named Arlo Beauregard (Michael J. Woodard). Crego shows Arlo’s journey from the sewers of Bellevue Hospital in New York, as his bassinet rides the waves and currents all the way to the bayou in New Orleans. He is discovered, rescued, and taken in by a kindly old swamp woman Edmee (Annie Potts).

Once Arlo gets older, Edmee tells him that he’s adopted and that all she knows about his family is the information found on his medical ID bracelet. With a song in his throat, a dream in his heart, Arlo’s off to New York City to find his father. Along the way, he meets Bertie (Mary Lambert), a giantess who rescues him from a pair of conniving hillbillies Ruff (Flea) and Stucky (Jennifer Coolidge), who wish to make Arlo a tourist attraction.  

Arlo and Bertie eventually stumble upon Furlecia (Jonathan Van Ness), a giant ball of pink hair with limbs. He and Teen Tiny Tony (Tony Hale), a small Italian rodent, are hustling farmers in a wrestling scheme. Arlo and Bertie help Furlecia and Tony escape the angry mob once they are found out. Eventually, they, along with tiger cub Alia (Haley Tju) and Marcellus (Brett Gelman), a strange surly fish-like creature, join Arlo on his adventure to find his father.

Arlo is fine. It’s one of those movies that is utterly inoffensive, competently made, and so targeted to a specific age group that anyone outside is left adrift and bored. The artwork, at times, is dream-like and borders on drawing us in before again falling in line with so many modern, brightly animated kid films. 

But for most of the movie, the animation is much like animation we see on dozens of other kid-focused or kid-friendly animation. The same goes for the dozen or so songs that sound like a hundred other songs we hear in movies now and days—part pop, part folksy, and entirely forgettable. 

Again, this movie is a setup for a series. All it’s trying to do is set up characters. Arlo is sweet and naive, Bertie is world-weary and sad, Furlecia and Tony are forever trying to pull one over on someone, Ali is there and drives the bus. At the same time, Marcellus hates kids and seems confused by the groups’ shenanigans. It must be said that of all the characters Gelman’s grumpy and blunt part fish, part Gillman from Creature of the Black Lagoon spoke to me deeply and spiritually.

Even giving Crego the benefit of merely having to set up a series, it still feels at times stilted and as if it is simply spinning its wheels. Upon arriving in New York, the gang discovers that Arlo’s dad is, in fact, Ansel Beuregaud (Vincent Rodriguez III), a wealthy businessman who makes his money gentrifying poor neighborhoods. Not to mention, Ruff and Stucky are still on their trails.

Ruff and Stucky are ultimately redeemed; whether or not that sticks for the rest of the show, I don’t know. Ansel reveals he is secretly a harpy. Thanks to Arlo, he can live his truth. The ultimate message of Arlo the movie, and I assume the show, is that no matter who you are, you deserve love. The inclusion of Van Ness makes it clear that Arlo isn’t about freaks but rather about the LGBTQIA+ community.

Though how well the metaphor of physical freaks being stand-ins for LGBT people works, I am not sure. The target audience will more than likely not read too deeply. After all, there is much that doesn’t quite work if viewed through the prism of an adult compared to a child’s more abstract understanding of the world around them.

All in all, Arlo the Alligator Boy is a well-intentioned film to teach kids to accept people different from them. Its greatest crime is that in all its strangeness, it somehow feels bland. 

Image courtesy of Netflix

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