Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
The Warm Embrace of the Swamp
Arlo the Alligator Boy is a 2D animated adventure musical directed and co-written by Ryan Crego. The Netflix film will also have a 20-episode animated series with the same cast and creator on Netflix called I Heart Arlo. The series is set to hit the streaming service sometime in 2021, as well.
At the age of 15, a humanoid alligator boy named Arlo (the feature film and animated program debut of Michael J. Woodard) discovers that he isn’t from the swamp he’s lived in his entire life. He’s actually from New York City and his father also resides there. He soon says goodbye to the bayou life he’s always known and heads towards the big city where he plans to meet his father and hopefully a few new friends along the way.
The animation style of Arlo the Alligator Boy is strange at first and the trailer doesn’t do it justice. Arlo’s animation looks basic; like this awkward hybrid of Adventure Time and The Amazing World of Gumball. But seeing it in motion and in high definition really sells the style. The film’s use of shading is exquisite and a lot of its vivid color utilization makes Arlo’s backgrounds look like bright construction paper cutouts.
The film opens with a baby Arlo stranded in a cradle as he floats down a riverbank. He eventually winds up in the sea where it guides him, rocks him, and provides for him almost like a parent would. Strangely enough, he seems safe besides the rough elements; tentacles push him out of harm’s way in choppy waters and a seagull barfs up a fish for him to eat. He drifts by a cruise ship playing music, which provides entertainment for him to dance to.
Finally Staying in One Place
For 15 years, Arlo lives in the swamp with a human woman named Edmee (Annie Potts). Arlo has daily encounters with terrifying animals; some which are indigenous to swamp life and some that are totally random like egrets, swamp foxes, full-blooded alligators, and bears. Arlo is always happy and sees the bright side of everything. He rides logs and bounces around the swamp with his pet frog Jeromio who mostly just farts a lot and rolls around like a ribbiting lump.
The film dives in to Arlo’s desire to just be seen. He’s been hiding for as long as he can remember because normal people probably won’t react kindly to an alligator boy. Arlo wants to perform and sing in front of others. The music of the film covers a variety of different genres. Since Arlo is from the swamp, there’s a New Orleans vibe to a lot of his songs, which includes jazzy undertones, scatting, piano, horns, strings, and a ton of catchy harmonies.
The songs in Arlo the Alligator Boy aren’t quite up to Rebecca Sugar standards, but they’re incredibly close. The music video for "Follow Me Home" even seems to resemble Steven Universe's "Here Comes a Thought." The Steven Universe comparisons go even deeper when a shot from Arlo the Alligator Boy seems to be a direct reference to Steven Universe: The Movie. Songs later on in the film introduce R&B and hip hop elements to them, which only seems to match the infectious positive vibes Arlo is consistently portraying.
Even though there are a variety of different characters in Arlo the Alligator Boy, they all seem to be unusual outcasts who just want to have a normal life or at least have someone by their side so they don’t feel so lonely. Bertie (the feature film and animated program debut of Mary Lambert) becomes Arlo’s best friend. She’s a large vegan woman who jumps high and is physically strong. She’s a lot like Strong Susan from Adventure Time. While her backstory isn’t fleshed out in the film, you get the feeling that she’s alone because of how big she is.
A New Home and a Bigger Family
A trio of con-artists becomes a part of Arlo’s ragtag group of misfits. Furlecia (Jonathan Van Ness, Queer Eye) is a fabulous and flamboyant amateur wrestler that wears knee-high socks and red high heels. Teeny Tiny Tony (Tony Hale, Arrested Development) is some type of rodent (it’s never clarified in the film) that is the mastermind of the group. And Alia (Haley Tju) is their driver, a small tiger in a red hoodie that loves cat toys and gets distracted easily. Finally, there’s Marcellus (Brett Gellman, Stranger Things). He’s a fish with a dad bod who only wears a black Speedo. They break him out of an aquarium in the film and he’s like the Squidward of the group. He has the greatest one-liners and is so easy to relate to, especially if you watch this as an adult. One of his best lines in the film is, “You know, you don’t have to sing everything you’re thinking.”
As Arlo goes on this journey of self-discovery, he meets several obstacles along the way. The human owners of a swamp attraction called Gator X-Perience, Stucky (Jennifer Coolidge, American Pie) and Ruff (Flea), are broke and their attraction is on the verge of being completely run-down. They want to use a talking alligator boy to turn the Gator X-Perience around. With a creature known as The Beast at their disposal they are actually way more intimidating than their hillbilly demeanor initially implies.
Arlo’s father, Ansel Beauregard (Vincent Rodriguez III, Ne Zha), is a human that has made a name for himself in New York City. The other obstacle that Arlo faces is a father that wants nothing to do with him. An interesting aspect of Arlo the Alligator Boy is that the main character isn’t attempting to find a father to try to coax them to be a part of their life or to live with them. Arlo wants his father to accept him, but he mostly just wants to know the truth. The road trip atmosphere of Arlo the Alligator Boy is reminiscent of A Goofy Movie or The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
One of the most enjoyable elements of Arlo the Alligator Boy is that every character in the film looks so different from one another. It’s an animated film that embraces being wonderful even if you look or behave differently than what is perceived as normal. The songs are meaningful and memorable, the animation is beautiful, and the film has several gags sprinkled throughout the film that seem to cater to an adult’s sense of humor. If I Heart Arlo ends up being as good as Arlo the Alligator Boy for a full season, then it will absolutely end up being one of the most heartfelt, hilarious, and relatable animated series ever.
Arlo the Alligator Boy is currently streaming on Netflix. I Heart Arlo currently doesn't have a set release date, but it is also coming to Netflix sometime in 2021.
© 2021 Chris Sawin