According to the production notes for Fat Albert, Hollywood has been out to make a live-action version of Bill Cosby's popular Saturday morning cartoon show for years. If that were truly the case, you'd think they would have invested more time and money in developing the project. But no, the feature film version of Fat Albert arrives on movie screens looking as if it were slapped together in two weeks on a budget of loose change. Granted, the original cartoon wasn't exactly Fantasia, but it had an underlying sweetness, as well as a rich cast of characters, that made up for the stiff animation. In contrast, the movie is bland and boring, relying on lame jokes and a nonsensical story to carry the day. Perhaps the most telling moment occurs when the live-action versions of Fat Albert and his motley crew pass by a poster advertising the DVD release of the animated series. If you were still unsure of the studio's motivations for making this movie, that scene sums it up quite neatly.
While the cheap sets and sitcom-ready lighting are the most obvious signs of the film's shoddiness, the script was clearly written in haste as well. The plot-which has something to do with Fat Albert (embodied here by "Saturday Night Live" cast member Kenan Thompson) entering the real world in order to solve a girl's problem-is so poorly thought out that it actually contradicts itself on more than one occasion. For example, although the TV show "Fat Albert" exists in this universe, none of the people the gang encounters seems to recognize them. Screenwriters Cosby and Charles Kipps apparently used up all their creative energy thinking of a way to get Fat Albert out of the television and into the real world. (For the record, they use the old "magical remote control" device as seen in Pleasantville.) Once the kids are three-dimensional, the script simply moves them from one anonymous setting to another-a mall, a block party, a public park-where they alternately make fools of themselves or show off skills they never displayed on the show. In one particularly embarrassing scene, Fat Albert gets the party started by rapping along to his theme song. The film seems to want to send the message that you can be good at anything you put your mind to, but instead suggests that these guys have special powers because they're fictional characters.
Fat Albert is the third film this year (following Garfield and the Scooby-Doo sequel) that attempts to cash in on a pop-culture phenomenon that has long since passed its sell-by date. Sure, many of us have fond memories of the series, but I can't think of anyone who has been clamoring to see a big-screen revival. And even the most die-hard fans are bound to be disappointed by the finished product. That Cosby was closely involved in the film's production-and further lends his approval by appearing in a brief cameo-only makes its general ineptness more depressing. After all, had he not been allowed any input, we might have been able to blame the movie's failings on his absence. Then again, this was the man who thought Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad were good career moves.