Rudy: You’re like school on Saturday: no class.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
I’ve talked about Bill Cosby’s notoriety a couple of times in my articles about Leonard Part 6 and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids so if you want to hear me talk about that again, go looking for those articles. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, despite its flaws as a cartoon with some awkward animation and voice acting proved to be everlasting with its fun characters and overall interesting ways of teaching various life lessons that talked to kids on their level. It ran for eight seasons and with a cartoon so influential it only made sense to make a movie…a mere 20 years after the show ended. Despite Cosby himself having partaken in its making it does little to represent the cartoon and is just all around bland and uninteresting.
The story involves the animated Fat Albert emerging from his television world along with his friends, Old Weird Harold, Dumb Donald, Bucky, Mushmouth, Rudy, and Bill into the real world. The gang finds themselves taken aback by various aspects of the modern world and attempt to help a young girl named Doris become more popular and believe in herself as she is depressed since her grandfather’s death. In the process Albert falls for Doris’ older sister Lauri and things get complicated when the gang starts to fade away and the gang has to return to their own world.
The story with Fat Albert and the gang helping Doris with her problems of depression and socialization in wake of her grandfather’s death does sound like something that would fit in the vein of the Fat Albert cartoon on paper and it definitely has good intentions. In execution however the concept is very bogged down in favor of a lot of plot lines that are bland and aren’t really compelling. There’s Fat Albert and the gang being these 70s kids fascinated by 21st century clothes and devices but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and it leads to a lot of predictable jokes. They find out in the real world they aren’t constrained by the traits that are written for them in their cartoon. Albert finds himself falling for Lauri leading to an awkward romance between the two and in the process incurs the wrath of a bully named Reggie and his friend Archie. All of these aspects not mattering in the least boil down to the same reason: The gang has to go back to the cartoon world and nothing significant from the real world can be taken with them. In short, it all feels aimless.
It isn’t all that bad as there are portions that try to re-create the nostalgic feel of the Fat Albert cartoon all those years ago. The opening for instance, shows the characters in the animated world singing the classic theme song. The theme song and the art and animation style are updated but it’s done so to the right amount that it can be connected to its classic roots (a far cry from the rap version of the theme song midway through the movie). The movie ends with a scene where we see Cosby and his friends paying their respects at the grave of the man who inspired Fat Albert and we see how the cartoon characters were inspired by all the men and how despite their age they still have the hearts of children in them. Both of these scenes have a lot of effort that really should have been in the rest of the movie.
The weird thing about this is that in trying to recreate some of the fond memories of the original such as the way the gang walks and pose oddly like they did in the 70s due to the clunky animation. But the overall simple structure of this story isn’t going to appeal to any one who grew up on this show. It’s something that would more appeal to youngsters who were born long after the show ended.
Kenan Thompson can be a really good and funny actor and he can do a moderately good Fat Albert impression but his fat suit looks so weirdly oval and fluffy making him look more like a cartoon fat kid in the scenes where he’s supposed to be a real. On top of that his take on the character just seems to be “nice guy who helps with problems who loves to sing and dance and say hey hey hey.” To the movie’s credit the movie does try to capture the look of the other members of the gang in comparison to their animated counterparts. The actors had chemistry and looked like they were having some level of fun. Keith Robinson in particular was good as straight man Bill. However they went out of their way to ensure Russell sounded nothing like he did in the show and made him into nothing more than a throwaway sibling. And for whatever reason they made a change where Harold translates everything Mushmouth says which gets annoying quick. But the difficult thing about all this is that the writing goes back and forth between making them out to be guys who want to help and a bunch of idiots who don’t see the harm they’re doing so it’s difficult to make them compelling and make us fully root for any of them.
As for Kyla Pratt as Doris and Dania Ramirez as Lauri, they felt more or less like rather one note characters and never really felt immersed in their roles.
This movie definitely has good intentions but those intentions only carry the movie for so long and its overall purpose is never found. Its story isn’t interesting and its characters don’t really represent the heart of the source material despite its feeble attempts to try. But overall it’s tough to get angry at this movie because its overall messages are mostly harmless. But it’s not going to provide anything whether you’re a Fat Albert fan or not.