In present-day Philadelphia, Doris (Kyla Pratt) is a teenage girl who's become socially withdrawn after the death of her grandfather. While she's sitting at home one day watching cartoons, one of her tears falls on the remote control. To her shock, Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson) and his friends from the 1970s cartoon show of the same name emerge from the TV set. Though the gang are out of place in the modern world, they refuse to return to their home until they've solved Doris' problem, whether she likes it or not.
Review by Jake Wilson:
I enjoyed Fat Albert - much to my surprise, considering what the Hollywood body-snatchers have done with Scooby Doo and The Brady Bunch and Charlie's Angels and The Flintstones and a hundred other fetish objects of ageing heartsick TV-reared Generation Xers. Maybe the difference is that few of those shows had much of a soul in the first place, while Fat Albert in its live-action incarnation remains what it was in the beginning, a personal creation by an artist. Needless to say, the artist in question isn't the credited director Joel Zwick, who finds it enough of a challenge to frame group shots without the actors knocking over the furniture. Rather, the film belongs to its co-writer and producer Bill Cosby: a onetime king of pop culture looking back in twilight, and trying to see how far his achievement holds up in a more cynical age.
Though the jury is still out on his career overall, Cosby has always been more complex than his Mr Wholesome image would suggest. In his cameo here as "Mr Cosby" he's frankly a grumpy old man, stooped and haggard, barking at an old creation come back to haunt him. The script shows traces of Cosby's famously damning view of latterday black youth, yet strives for tolerance, giving an official blessing to hip-hop and Ebonics while insisting that Albert's chivalry, good humour and dedication to "solving problems" never go out of date. Thankfully, Kenan Thompson's winning performance contains not a hint of irony - though the same can't quite be said of the other Cosby Kids, a camp flock who look, speak and move like a cross between The Wiggles and the cast of a West Side Story revival.
While Cosby could be seen as expressing straightforward nostalgia, this would be to ignore the film's cartoon metaphysics, borrowed from movies like Pleasantville (or the ancestor of them all, Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr) but given a distinctive twist here. Fat Albert and his buddies aren't just 1970s kids adrift in time, they're fictional characters who must return to their home in the TV set or crumble into dust. In some ways this convention is clumsily handled, but Cosby is less interested in figuring out the exact rules of the fantasy than pondering the relationship between art and life. As cheerful and simple as his bright red sweater, Fat Albert is a more innocent hero than a real person could ever be. But he's also closer to reality than we might have guessed up till the moving ending - which shows this unassuming kiddie comedy to be not only a personal testament but also an elegy, and perhaps a farewell.
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FAT ALBERT (G)
CAST: Kenan Thompson. Kyla Pratt, Shedrack Anderson, Jermaine Williams, Keith Robisnon, Alphonso McAuley and Bill Cosby
PRODUCER: John Davis,
DIRECTOR: Joel Zwick
SCRIPT: Bill Cosby, Charles Kipps
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Paul Elliott
EDITOR: Tony Lombardo
MUSIC: Richard Gibbs
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nina Ruscio
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 21, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: August 17, 2005