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I was very worried when I heard Fat Albert was going to jump from the small to the big screen. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was always one of my favorite TV shows, but I was about 5 years old, so I didn't have high standards, and you know how some of your favorite childhood things don't seem as great when you get old. Additionally, Bill Cosby's comedy routines about Fat Albert and all of the neighborhood adventures he experienced were amazing and more vivid in my imagination than they ever could be in a movie. Much to my surprise, I found myself laughing (in a good way) throughout Fat Albert, and even got a bit misty eyed.
In a setup familiar to anyone who has seen Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Doris (Kyla Pratt) has a problem. She hasn't been herself in a while, lost her self-confidence, and keeps shying away from fun. One day, while watching Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids on TV, a tear falls from her eye onto the remote control, opening a portal from TV world into the real world (I know, I know, it sounds really stupid, but go with it, the payoff is cool, and how else are you going to make this stuff happen?). Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson) sees Doris through the TV screen and assumes he's supposed to help her, just like he helps people on TV. Before you know it, Fat Albert and all of the Cosby kids have leaped through the TV and into her living room.
Can Fat Albert help Doris? Will the gang be able to get back into the TV where they belong? Can they handle the modern world?
My friend Nell "The Movie Mom" Minow and I had much the same thought after seeing the movie. Fat Albert the movie is like the TV show. It has some funny moments and a good heart, and I think that makes you willing to forgive its shortcomings, which aren't many.
Bill Cosby and Charles Kipps provide a script that is part-Brady Bunch Movie and part-typical Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids adventure. The movie's most amusing scenes involve Fat Albert and the gang trying to adjust to the modern world and reacting with amazement to how different things are in real world North Philadelphia compared to the North Philadelphia in their TV world. We get some funny jokes that give them a chance to acknowledge their existence as cartoon characters who are driven by whatever the writers command (how meta-aware!!), but Cosby and Kipps are very careful to keep it clean. The kids face innocent challenges, and Fat Albert always seems to get the better of anyone who underestimates him or degrades him due to his weight. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids are a bunch of earnest, well-meaning kids in a jaded world, which leads to some good laughs. Plus, like the TV show, they are going to show us a thing or two about believing in yourself and living life the right way.
However, I have to take off points for some problems. Cosby, Kipps and Director Joel Zwick pad the movie on several occasions by developing a subplot about dangers Cosby Kid Russell (voice by Jeremy Suarez) faces in TV world, while his big brother Bill, Fat Albert and the rest of the kids are on their real world adventure. It doesn't add anything to the movie, especially since Cosby and Kipps provide a much better reason why Fat Albert will want to get back to TV world.
Also, Zwick employs one of my most hated modern clichés when Fat Albert ends up riding a skateboard in an attempt to make him seem "cool" to modern kids. I am so sick of this. I have lost count how many times it happens, but many movies often have the star character riding a skateboard or snowboard to show they too can be "extreme." It's pitiful pandering. Additionally, I have to take off some points for blatantly promoting Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids on DVD (think it has been released during the Christmas season? You betcha.). It's the most blatant movie tie-in I have ever seen. They would have been better off making me sit through a commercial for the DVD after the trailers. Instead, I get to roll my eyes at the painful scene.
Fat Albert is a fun time, good nostalgia for people who loved the TV show, and a nice family movie for the holiday season. Pay attention for the very cool plot twist revealing why Fat Albert has been sent to help Doris. It was the movie's highlight for me, along with a touching last scene.
3 Waffles (Out Of 4)
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