Hey! Hey! Hey! The big kid on the block is back. Fat Albert, who ruled television screens during the 1970s, is debuting in theatres. But will anyone recognize him? A check of the listings for the historic animated series on the Dish Network came up empty--and that may be a critical situation in getting kids to bond to this boy. Nevertheless, this is a film that deserves your child's attention.
We are reunited with Albert and his gang in a clever opening that looks and feels like a classic Fat Albert cartoon episode. Albert (Kenan Thompson) rules the North Philadelphia junkyard with Bucky (Alphonso McAuley), Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams), Rudy (Shedrack Anderson III), Weird Harold (Aaron Frazier), Dumb Donald (Marques Houston), and nearly normal (relatively speaking) Bill (Kieth Robinson). Playing their favorite game of buck-buck, the painted sky suddenly opens and a girl's sad face appears.
In "reality land" downcast Doris (Kyla Pratt) has had another bad day at school. Upstaged by her popular foster sister Lauri (Dania Ramirez), she's feeling insecure and lonely. Hitting the couch, she turns on TV Land and finds The Cosby Kids doin' their thing. But when a teardrop falls from her face onto the remote control, a veritable wormhole is opened between the two worlds.
Known for his problem solving abilities, the big boy in the red sweater just can't help but come to the rescue. Lumbering toward Doris's image in his world, Fat Albert jumps out of the television and lands in her home. Not far behind is the entire gang, who decided to follow their leader out of their hand-drawn Philly and into the real thing. (Although the whole film was actually shot on sets in LA!)
Wandering around the inner city in their cool 70s duds, the boys soon discover many things they love about reality. As the hours pass, they become different people and gain new talents. However, they also notice their colors are evaporating. Fat Albert realizes there's only one person who can tell them what's happening. Dropping by the home of his creator, he learns if he and the group don't jump back into the TV, they will become nothing more than "celluloid dust."
Making the trip back won't be easy. Not only do they have to wait until their program runs again, but Albert has also become very fond of Lauri while he has been trying to help Doris. Can he live with being only a faded memory in her mind?
For viewers accustomed to the usual kid movie formula, this film may be a test of patience. Where is the high-octane action? When will Doris's foster sister turn into an evil cheerleader? Where are all the flatulence jokes that accompany any obese kid in a movie? And how can a guy like Fat Albert manage to capture the heart of the most gorgeous girl in the movie?
Instead, thanks to the Cosby touch, the slow and steady story quietly breaks those stereotypes. It gives us time to get to know the characters, and puts them on a stage that involves everyday situations along with reasonable consequences and reactions. (My only regret is it doesn't have a little more of the great comedian's humor my family enjoys so much.) Although it waxes a little moralistic at times, Fat Albert's junkyard gang does offer some valuable lessons - especially when compared to the dozens of other "message" movies covering theatre marquees.