Hey! Hey! Hey! It's a baaaaaaad movie!
Though it ran until the late '80s, "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" was a cartoon before my time. While "Garfield" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" grabbed my attention, kids still watched the animated creations of Bill Cosby to learn life lessons and have a little fun in the process. But nowadays, how many youngsters actually know who Fat Albert is, aside from the famous "Hey! Hey! Hey!" catchphrase? I ask this because I'm a little confused about why a live-action Fat Albert movie was released now, not to mention for whom it was made.
Today's kids probably won't have a clue who that giant kid and his goofy-looking buddies are, and those old enough to have watched the cartoon won't enjoy the way their beloved classic has been turned into such a hokey flick. I worry that the only impact Fat Albert might end up having is inspiring millions of bullies to turn the lives of kids named Albert into their own living hells.
As the film begins, Fat Albert (played in live-action form by Kenan Thompson) and his friends Rudy (Shedrack Anderson III), Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams), Bill (Keith Robinson), Bucky (Alphonso McAuley), Old Weird Harold (Aaron Frazier), and Dumb Donald (Marques Houston) are enjoying their lives as retro-cartoon characters broadcast every afternoon on TV Land. But through some form of magic (or faulty wiring), the tear from a sad, introverted human girl named Doris (Kyla Pratt) allows Fat Albert and the gang to cross over into our world.
Determined to help Doris overcome her insecurity and to find her some friends, Fat Albert and the kids stick around in the real world, dumbfounded and amazed by such new discoveries as aluminum pop cans and DVD's (or, as one of the kids pronounces it, "duhvuhd"). But they're going to have to work quickly, since the bright colors of their outfits are starting to fade, and "Fat Albert" won't be on until the following afternoon, putting Fat Albert into quite a spot, as he's torn between returning to the world he belongs in and falling in love with Doris' popular foster sister (Dania Ramirez).
I suppose it's unimportant for me to criticize Fat Albert, because it's not a film made with my concerns in mind. And, as family fare, I can recommend it (but only as a last resort -- if The Incredibles, SpongeBob, or The Polar Express are sold out), mostly because it's a perfectly harmless, appropriately goofy product that introduces the little ones to the fun world of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. But if you found yourself cringing at the trailers like I did, don't worry about missing anything. Fat Albert confirms just about all the fears and doubts your cynical mind can come up with. The entire plot consists of one hackneyed device after another, giving the film a very processed, Velveeta-like flavor. As a result, things move along pretty slowly for Fat Albert, with the characters trudging through one recycled situation after another, many of them even at the same time and in both worlds. There's a crisis in Fat Albert's animated junkyard that receives so little attention and bears so little consequence to the plot, you could walk out, get a bucket of popcorn, come back, and not have missed a thing. Fat Albert reeks of familiarity, as if in one shape or another, you've already seen everything the images onscreen have to offer.
Not having seen the original cartoon myself, I can't make a fair judgment on how well the actors bring their animated counterparts to life. But if they're the same goofy-looking bunch on TV as they are in a multiplex, then I'd say they have their parts down pat. Still, they were all a little too one-note for me, stuck with their own respective running gags that got tiring as the movie progressed (yes, I see that Fat Albert is indeed overweight, but would ya stop with the "booooing" sound effects already?). Kyla Pratt (Dr. Dolittle) did a sweet job as Doris, and recent "Saturday Night Live" addition Kenan Thompson has the Fat Albert impression down to a tee, but all of the supporting characters seem to exist for the sole purpose of contributing a failed joke or thin subplot.
Fat Albert is feel-good fluff, a completely innocuous comedy designed by the filmmakers and Bill Cosby (who has a brief appearance as himself here) to provide a little cheer this holiday season. Still, there are many better movies already out there for the little ones. If Fat Albert must be seen, it can wait for a DVD release. After all, it took Hollywood over 30 years to turn "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" into a movie, so people should be able to wait a few months before it hits video store shelves.
MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG" for momentary language.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.