A fondly remembered staple of '70s Saturday morning TV viewing, "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" moves on up to the big screen after years of resistance from its creator and provider of many of the character voices, Bill Cosby.
Perhaps Mr. Cosby should have stuck to those initial instincts.
An awkward blend of live action and animation, "Fat Albert", with "Saturday Night Live" regular Kenan Thompson
fat-suiting up for the title role, gets crushed under lumbering direction by "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" director Joel Zwick
and message-heavy (even more than the original) dialogue that effectively suffocates any bits of fun trying to poke through.
The out-of-balance results will be felt at the boxoffice -- there's so little incentive for repeat viewing -- but with so many other kid-appropriate movies already essentially played out prior to the holidays, parents of younger ones might prefer "Albert"'s candy-colored allure to the darker recesses of a "Lemony Snicket".
Sharing the screenwriting with Charles Kipps
, Bill -- or William H. Cosby Jr. as he's credited here -- brings his characters into the real world through a tear-stained portal that takes them from their animated North Philly neighborhood directly through a TV screen and into the live-action North Philly neighborhood inhabited by Doris (Kyla Pratt), a morose, lonely teen that Fat Albert
and his posse are determined to help.
Realizing that hanging around with oddly dressed guys with names like Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams
), Old Weird Harold (Aaron A. Frazier) and Dumb Donald (Marques B. Houston) aren't exactly going to help her high school social life, Doris is anxious to send them back into TV Land, but the portal won't be reopening until their show airs again the next day.
So the old school characters are introduced to cell phones and laptops in addition to flesh-and-blood babes, like Doris' foster sister Lauri (Dania Ramirez
), with whom Fat Albert
is instantly smitten.
And time is quickly running out as Albert and the gang find themselves literally fading away in their new surroundings, and they still haven't been able to help Doris with her self-esteem issues.
They're not the only ones fading fast.
Squandering comic opportunities at every turn, the film is content to adhere to a mantra of "when in doubt, dance" rather than finding any clever entertaining ways to punctuate the prolonged moralizing.
But there are only so many times Al Can
shake his stuff like a big old bowl of Jell-O before the audience begins to get restless.
While Thompson and the young cast are amiable enough, there just isn't all that much for them to do other than walk up and down the Paramount and Culver Studios backlots, stopping on more than one occasion in front of a video store with a poster in the window advertising the arrival of the original Fat Albert
cartoons on DVD.
That would be your better deal.
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox presents a Davis Entertainment Co./SAH Enterprises, Inc. production
Director: Joel Zwick
Producer: John Davis
Screenwriters: William H. Cosby Jr. & Charles Kipps
Executive producers: William H. Cosby Jr., Camille O. Cosby
Director of photography: Paul Elliott
Production designer: Nina Ruscio
Editor: Tony Lombardo
Costume designer: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Music: Richard Gibbs
Fat Albert: Kenan Thompson
Doris: Kyla Pratt
Reggie: Omari Grandberrry
Voice of Danielle: Raven-Symone
Mushmouth: Jermaine Williams
Old Weird Harold: Aaron A. Frazier
Voice of Russell: Jeremy Suarez
Bill: Keith D. Robinson
Lauri: Dania Ramirez
Dumb Donald: Marques B. Houston
Rudy: Shedrack Anderson III
Bucky: Alphonso McAuley
Arthur: J. Mack
MPAA rating: PG
Running time: 93 minutes