I grew up watching “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” on television and for whatever reason absolutely loved it, cheesy laugh track and all. The very idea of taking a television series and turning into a movie, especially one like “Fat Albert”, absolutely bores me to death. There are rare occasions when the concept works out, but it takes real inspiration and a darn good idea to make that happen. Walking in to see the movie I had to force myself into neutrality to give the show a fair chance, balking at the thought that Bill Cosby (whose feature film track record is anything but stellar) could pull off bringing Fat Albert to the big screen. I’m glad I did. To my utter surprise it’s a cheery movie with a lot of heart and an encouraging message for younger kids growing up in a world that isn’t always very welcoming.
Doris is your typical young teen growing up in North Philadelphia. Ever since her grandfather’s recent death, she has struggled to find joy in the world around her. Even with encouragement from her loving foster sister Laurie, Doris has a tough time forging friendships and excelling at the things she loves the most. One particularly tough day, a teary-eyed Doris is flipping channels and comes to rest on none other than Fat Albert’s show. When one of her tears falls onto the remote control, it sends a cosmic signal to Fat Albert in the world of TV Land and opens a portal through the television set, allowing him and his gang to jump into the real world to help solve Doris’ problem.
Despite not quite fitting into their modern surroundings, Fat Albert and the rest are up to the task. Among their many distractions is Albert’s interest in Laurie, a sweet girl who appreciates his gentleman’s attitude and passion for helping others. But before long the gang discovers a major problem. Their presence in the real world is causing their colors to fade and their personalities are changing as a result of their surroundings. They belong in a different world, and they only have so long to help Doris before they must make the jump back into the cartoon realm.
For all its warmhearted charm, this movie is just too fluffy. The story plays out like something that should have debuted as an after school special, not a Christmas Day theatrical release. The overly simple plot will perhaps appeal to the Hillary Duff crowd, and they’re also the likeliest to benefit from its very clear message: stay true to yourself, no matter what others think you are or should be. Anyone older is likely to lose interest quickly. The interaction of the 50’s characters with present day technology is cute for the first couple of gags, but the joke gets old, fast.
Regardless of the cast’s potential ability, their performances are tied down to what their animated counterparts would do, leaving the movie as flat as the paper the cartoon characters were originally drawn on. The actors fail to capture the quirky charisma of the old television series, least of all Kenan Thompson as Fat Albert. The more enjoyable side of the cast are Kyla Pratt and Dania Ramirez who breathe life into otherwise suffocated scenes. They seem gratefully aware that they’re the only two characters not tied down to some kind of stereotype.
Folks who are planning to see the movie should skip the rest of this paragraph as I’m going to divulge the movie’s very heart warming twist, something I would hate to ruin for you. The story finally hits a stride when a very confused Fat Albert goes to the house of his creator, Bill Cosby, to try and sort out why he had his friends were able to make the unexplainable crossover into the real world. Cosby discovers that the girl is actually the granddaughter of the man who inspired the Fat Albert character, and suggests that her bond to her grandfather is what allowed the characters to come over into the real world to help solve her problems. The rest of the movie becomes a sort of tribute to the “real” Fat Albert, right down to a very sweet ending that even brought a small tear to my eye.
Fat Albert won’t go down as Bill Cosby’s biggest cinematic failure. In my book that distinction will always go to Leonard 6. Nevertheless, it’s a small audience who will find the film’s warm finale worth the hour and a half wait. If you loved Fat Albert as a kid, this movie is anything but the trip down television’s memory lane you might be hoping for and will likely leave you disappointed. Unless you have a preteen kid begging you to see this movie, or you’re into supporting the kind of movies that encourage young children to be themselves, an honest Fat Albert would tell you “Hey, hey, hey…just stay away!”