If you grew up in the 1970s and early '80s and were allowed to wallow in the guilty pleasures of Saturday morning cartoons, you remember Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. It had fantastic characters - the aptly-named Mushmouth, hat-faced Dumb Donald, pint-sized "You're like school on Saturday" Russell, and - of course - the jolly main man himself. These guys had wacky voices spouting colorful, funny dialogue. And, as the funk-tastic theme song stated, if you weren't careful, "you might just learn something" from its feel-good storylines.
So, when I first heard Hollywood was remaking Fat Albert, I had high hopes for this live-action version of one of my favorite old-school cartoons. Maybe, just maybe, it could be a clever, slightly-edgy spoof a la The Brady Bunch Movie. Sadly, Fat Albert turns out to be just a bloated and feeble after-school special that's even too sappy for kids.
Hey, hey, hey - bombs away.
The lameness begins right off the top. Wallflower Doris (Kyla Pratt) can't seem to make friends at school, and finds solace from her loneliness in watching Fat Albert cartoons. While watching an episode, the show's plot reminds her of her own social plight, and it makes her cry. When her tear lands on the TV remote, a giant tear falls from the cartoon sky on the show and -- no, I am not kidding -- lands within the toon landscape, where it opens up a portal into Doris' living room. In his never-ending quest to solve problems, Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson) jumps through the portal and out of the TV, dragging his Junkyard Gang with him.
In the real world, these toon teens are all misfits, even to Doris who wants nothing more than for them to go back into the TV. Unfortunately, the crew discovers that the real world is making them fade away, and they can't attempt to jump back to TV Land (literally) until tomorrow's airing. So, they set about trying to make Doris popular, while also exploring this brave new world - from cell phones to shopping malls to falling in love.
As you can imagine, fish out of water jokes abound, and I've never heard such bad ones. Today's modern products - from pop-top cans ("Where's the can opener?") to its wireless gadgets (we get this gag twice) - confound the boys, resulting in few laughs. Outside of those gems, you're expected to find humor in the real-life gang doing their weak impersonations of the aforementioned loveable characters. Infuriatingly, the filmmakers go on to kill off the interesting parts of these characters by "fixing" their cartoon quirkiness through real-world help (Dumb Donald gets smart, etc.). Question for Bill: Why?
In the press notes, Bill Cosby claims to have signed on to do this project to remind us that "caring, sharing - and fun - never go out of style." And I'm down with that concept; wholesome family entertainment that teaches valuable life lessons in this jaded day and age is great. But, Bill, you did it better the first time when it was a cartoon; that's why it's a classic.
Fat Albert offers nothing clever or even nostalgic for parents to enjoy, and very little to amuse young people or even anyone with which to identify. So save your box office money, and go rent the show's DVD (which is advertised heavily throughout the film). I bet even today's kids will dig it.
Blonde boy: Get in ma belly!!!