Fat Albert (2004) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for some very mild humor
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Kenan Thompson, Kyla Pratt, Dania Ramirez, Shedrack Anderson III, Jermaine Williams, Keith Robinson, Alphonso McAuley, Aaron Frazier, Marques Houston, Omari Grandberry, J. Mack Slaughter Jr., Bill Cosby
Director: Joel Zwick
Screenplay: Bill Cosby, Charles Kipps
Review published December 30, 2004
Na-na-na, gonna have a good tiiiiime!! (Well, maybe not.)
If there were ever an instance where I awarded a film a half star higher out of sheer pity, Fat Albert is it. Such an earnest attempt at making a truly good-natured film for all ages should be given at least that much respect, but boy, all of the cast's efforts deserve a much better movie than this. It is, of course, based on the popular cartoon from the 70s and 80s, "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids", created and mostly voiced by Bill Cosby. Within every episode, a bunch of inner city African-American kids would find a way to get out of some predicament, usually aided by the gentle kindness of Fat Albert, their warm-hearted leader. It was innocuous fare, and it taught good moral lessons, plus the music was pretty decent for a kids cartoon.
Now the kids get to play in the real world of today, in this live-action movie. The premise of the film is that Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson, Barbershop 2,)and the rest of the gang pop out of a television set to assist the woefully depressed Doris gain some acceptance in her new school and learn to be happy again. Not only are they now in flesh and blood for (I think), but they still are dressed and have the same attitudes they had in the 70s, with no knowledge of technological and cultural advances like cell phones, laptops, or hip hop. They're all a bit square in this world of today, but they are determined to still make good, so before they try to go back into the real world, they agree to help Doris reach her dreams. Trouble is, they aren't real people, and they need to complete their mission before they fade away.
I suppose I should be thankful that, at the very least, I am sufficiently familiar enough with the cartoon to understand what was going on, because I can't imagine someone unfamiliar with the characters and show not being completely bewildered by some of the events that transpire throughout the course of the movie. My first indication that we might be in for an excruciatingly bad time came right from the outset, when Fat Albert is trying, almost in vain, to squeeze his rotund figure out of Doris' television set, in a truly terrifying display that might even rival the scare factor of the young girl performing a similar feat in The Ring. It doesn't get much better after that, as we see Fat Albert later bust a rap, a beat box, and bust a move on the dance floor, with all the gang backing him up in synchronized fashion. Very, very surreal.
As bad as Fat Albert is, and it is very bad, it does have a sweetness and warmth of intention that will no doubt win some people over. Despite some of the most contrived situations, poorest characterizations, and dumbest plot developments I've seen in many a movie, I just can't bring myself to hate it. It's like that damn Puss-in-Boots from Shrek 2 -- I want to do it harm and tear it apart, but it just looks back at me with those sad eyes. Damn those sad eyes!!
Like seeing a young child singing badly in a school function, Fat Albert is an uncomfortable and often embarrassing film to watch, but you feel endeared by the attempt to entertain, even if it's a terrible performance. Cosby's creations deserve better than this, and so do the fans. It may be called Fat Albert, but this material is as thin as it gets.
©2004 Vince Leo