Fat Albert (2004)

reviewed by
Harvey S. Karten


Reviewed by Harvey S. Karten 20th Century Fox Grade: B Directed by: Joel Zwick Written by: William H. Cosby, Jr., Charles Kipps Cast: Kenan Thompson, Kyla Pratt, Bill Cosby, Omari Grandberry, Raven-Symone, Jermaine Williams, Aaron Frazier, Jeremy Suarez, Keith E. Robinson, Dania Ramirez, Marques B. Houston, Shedrack Anderson III, Alphonso McAuley, J. Mack Slaughter Jr. Screened at: MGM, NYC, 12/20/04

When you attend a showing of "Fat Albert" after seeing a downer like "The Sea Inside" (about a quadriplegic who for twenty-eight years sought a government OK to commit suicide), your faith in life's joys is regained. This is not to say that Alejandro Amenabar's picture is not worth seeing. Quite the contrary. Sometimes people want to have a good cry, seeing a good man like Javiet Barden's character, Ramon Sampedro, unable to move a muscle below his neck and depending totally on the kindness of relatives. "Fat Albert," by contrast by contrast is a good-time pic, one which takes part in North Philadelphia rather than Northern Spain. The movie is filmed under Joel Zwick's direction completely in Calfornia, the scenes looking like the back-yard sets of Fox studios. The story is propelled by the tears of a high-school girl, Doris (Kyla Pratt), whose problems are far less serious than those suffered by Ramon Sampedro. In fact the girl is in denial, refusing help until Albert comes to her rescue and during his brief time in the real world assures her that her feelings of low esteem are unwarranted.

"Fat Albert," scripted by Bill Cosby and Charles Kipps, is based on characters that Mr. Cosby created for a wildly successful Saturday morning TV cartoon show from 1972 to 1984, "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" taking up the first seven years of its run while "The New Fat Albert Show" aired from 1979 to 1984. In this movie version, which has scenes both animated and live- action, the characters that Cosby had created in comic monologues based on his childhood memories of his growing up in the North Philly neighborhood literally come to life. When Doris's tear drips down to her TV remote unit, it travels through her television set where it is noticed by the title character. Albert, being the do-gooder that he is, discovers that the source of her worries is that she has no friends. Kenan Thompson, whose resemblance to the cartoon character he plays is striking, has a smile for everyone except the local bully, and though strangely enough when he successfully coaxes Doris into buying a cool dress and showing up at a party, nobody asks her to dance. She does however turn in a great showing in her school track meet and that, more than her sexy dress, gives her the self-confidence that will allow her to move optimistically forward with her life.

There are no "adult" references in this "Fat Albert" that could have been put into the script to go over the kids' heads and gives the grownups something to laugh about, but no matter. The zany events coupled with the good nature of Albert's entire gang should be a treat for the big guys as well as the kids. Some of the crazy situations revolve around the 1970's gang's learning what's new, trying to imitate gimme-fives and hip handshakes along with current, bouncy dance steps and hip hop contests. Albert is such a fast learner that he and his TV pals sing and dance to a rap version of their seventies theme song, "Gonna Have a Good Time." Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams) starts off by talking in his usual style but during the long, event-filled day in the neighborhood he learns to speak clearly–which some academics are bound to interpret as motivated by Cosby's recent diatribe against Black English.

While doing good, Albert is also treating himself to something special, a kind of love he never learned while still a cartoon. Romance is in the air when he meets and falls in love at first sight with Doris's older sister, Laurie (Dania Ramirez), a young woman who complains that whenever guys say they care about her, they soon take their leave–a problem that Albert does not solve since he is forced to give her the brush as well, warned by Bill Cosby himself that if he does not return through the TV set to become once again a cartoon he will fade away into celluloid dust. Aside from some cracks made about how one character's "behind" can be seen by everyone since his clothes are fading away, "Fat Albert" is squeaky clean during its eventful hour and a half and should prove to be great fun for kids, especially for those who want to know what their dads used to watch on Saturday-morning TV.

Rated PG. 93 minutes. © 2004 by Harvey Karten
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