Ever since the release of "Klaus" back in 2019, Netflix has really been working hard to get into the animation game. Wanting to compete with Disney and hopefully take their crown, the streaming giant has been scooping up many animated films and shows as they can hoping to inspire audiences for many years to come. While I think that it's going to be a while before they ever have the chance of beating Disney, I got to give them the effort for trying as I really have been enjoying their animated films with "Arlo the Alligator Boy" being yet another charming little film in their catalog. When the film was announced late last year out of the blue, I was very curious to see how it would turn out and it did not disappoint. This little animated musical was simply a delight to watch from beginning to end and I had a big smile on my face as I was watching it.
In the swamp, a young alligator boy named Arlo (Michael J. Woodard) has been living a happy life with his guardian Edmée (Annie Potts) for twelve years. From time to time, he catches a glimpse of the riverboat and the people on board hoping to set out and see the world. One day, Edmée tells Arlo about how she found him and gives him his birth identification tag that he came with. After telling him that he's from New York City and has a father there, Arlo sets off for the Big Apple to find his long lost father and along the way comes across several characters including a big teenage girl named Birdie (Mary Lambert), a rodent-like creature named Tony (Tony Hale), a pink flamboyant hair creature named Furlecia (Jonathan Van Ness), a tiger-like girl named Alia (Haley Tju), and a fish with legs named Marcellus (Brett Gellman). Unbeknownst to Arlo, he's being followed by two hillbillies named Stucky (Jennifer Coolidge) and Ruff (Flea) who plan on taking Arlo and displaying him there to make money. From there, Arlo goes on an incredible journey with his friends encountering many crazy events along the way.
This was such a fun little film to watch. It's a film that doesn't do anything huge or groundbreaking but rather tells a simple little tale about friendship and fitting into the big world and I feel it does it very well. The story itself has been done before many times. It's the story of a young and naive character setting off to find his place in the world and encountering many friends along his journey and it mostly sticks to that formula. While there may not be many huge surprises or twists in this story, I feel it still mostly works mainly because its message really resonated with me. The film makes it clear that it's okay to be different and unusual and that you will have to find people who are different just like you along your journey in life and it's a message that I think kids and adults will appreciate a lot. As someone who has been confused about my place in the world and has questioned my purpose and whether or not I'm special before, this really was the message I think I needed and I love how director Ryan Crego and the cast and crew took advantage of it. I do think the story does stumble a bit with how some scenes aren't as fleshed out as they need to be. Some scenes felt like they should've been a bit longer as they went by so fast that I didn't get enough time to breathe in the scenes like a scene where Arlo and the others break Marcellus out of an aquarium in the Carolinas. I also thought the humor was a little too scattershot at times and should've been reigned back a little, though I do think most of the humor does work well. There's a running gag in New York City where everyone in the city keeps shouting "I'm walking here!". As a movie buff, that got a big chuckle out of me. The biggest highlight of this film is easily the animation. The animation provided by Titmouse is simply wonderful to watch and I really got enveloped in just how colorful and joyous this world was and how it compliments the musical numbers exceptionally well. It felts as if the illustrations of a storybook were being brought to life. The character designs were all unique and had so much energy in them and reminded me a lot of the rubber-hose character designs of the 30s though it's the backgrounds that are easily the biggest highlight of the film. The backgrounds reminded me a lot of the work of both Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle especially when the gang gets to New York City which the colors and the stylized look of the skyscrapers. There's also one scene where the animation resembles chalk illustrations and where the colors all leap out of the screen and it simply astonished me. I also think all the characters are a lot of fun to watch. Arlo is a protagonist who could've come off as annoying, but he doesn't in this film. He's naive and filled with a lot of energy and I enjoyed watching him go along his journey and encountering the other characters along the way. The other characters all have funny personality traits with Tony being obsessed with pizza, Furlecia being a diva and wanting their hair perfect, Alia driving the gang to New York despite only having her learner's permit and easily getting distracted, and Marcellus being a snoop and eavesdropping constantly in other peoples conversations. They were all lots of fun to watch though my favorite character by far was easily Birdie. She's the quietest of the group and is struggling to find her place in the world though she isn't afraid to stand up to her friends and fight back when necessary. I also thought the villains were fun with Coolidge and Flea playing off each other well though I do think they should've had more screen time as they didn't really have much presence in the film. Another big highlight of this film is also the musical numbers which all were very good and memorable. Crego put a lot of attention and detail into the musical numbers throughout the film and they really paid off big time. All the songs were well written and fun to watch with the animation standing out particularly in these scenes. My favorite is easily the duet between Arlo and Birdie called "Follow Me Home" where the two sing on the beach and play in the ocean with the latter changing colors and shining spectacularly as the scene keeps going. It was simply stunning to watch.
All in all, "Arlo the Alligator Boy" is a fun little animated film to watch. While its story might be a bit familiar and could've had more development, it more than makes up for it with a strong message, beautiful animation, creative characters, and catchy musical numbers. It's another winning animated film from Netflix as far as I'm concerned and I do give it a good recommendation. It's not trying to become the next biggest animated film, but rather just trying to tell a fun simple story with colorful characters and as that, it does a fantastic job. It's a colorful journey well worth taking.