“Hey, hey, hey ... it's Fat Albert!”
Having never seen the original cartoon TV series that this is based upon I can't really say how well it translates to the live-action format but, as a film in its own right, you'd be hard pressed to find anything lighter or less involving. Fat Albert and his gang herald from a junkyard in Philadelphia and, in between playful, non-threatening skirmishes with a rival gang, have a habit of helping people out with their problems. They are certainly a goofy looking bunch of urchins - one has a purple balaclava pulled down over his head and shoulders in a Darth Vader's helmet shape and another has a distinct look of Red Dwarf's Dwayne Dibbley - but their collective heart is very definitely in the right place. Yep, you guessed it, this is just a simplistic morality-lesson, doled out to kids whose idea of a dilemma is just what to wear for school the next day. When you've got the happy-go-lucky crew on your side, everything's going to be alright with plenty of song and dance and an effortlessly bling-free, feel good vibe. So, without further ado, let's skip to the concept fuelling the big screen outing for the gang. These guys exist in the TV, living out their garishly colourful escapades blissfully unaware of the real world beyond the screen. But when poor, confidence-lacking Doris (Kyla Pratt) is not invited to the hip-hop street party a block away she sheds a stray tear onto the TV screen whilst Fat Albert's show is on and, hey presto, some heavy-handed magical therapy trick sees the gang leaping through the cathode ray tube and into the real world. Hey, hey, hey ... it's time for lame comedy, street-preening antics that are meant to pass for acting talent and perhaps the most astonishingly trivial plot to ever sustain a full-length movie.
“I have done guest spots on Bugs Bunny and The Jetsons and I have never been treated like this.”
Once on the loose in three dimensions the gang swiftly discover that they are a few years behind the times, cue some inept lampoonery involving mobile phones, fashions and the eponymous hip-hop culture that this movie so juvenilely endorses, but Fat Albert can always save the day with his innocently sweet natured advice and joviality, despite the attentions of college bullyboy Reggie, who is about as threatening as a ladybird. Along the way there's time for self-discovery, a smattering of totally unbelievable love, some ludicrously bad CG enabling Albert to trot at high speed around the school track and a complete wasteland for chuckles. One element that does work quite well, however, is the parallel universe for the gang back in TV land. Whilst most of them have come through for the adventure in reality, the youngest member of the crew has remained behind and must battle the other kids until his buddies return and, with their outlandishly colourful clobber fading fast with life on the outside, Fat Albert's boys know that their time in the real Philadelphia is short so, consequently, they must return soon before dissolving into celluloid dust. But alongside this comes the gang's noticing of a poster for their latest DVD (an actual release I might add) that is surely just an excuse for some free marketing.
“She blew in his eye. What does that mean?”
As the titular Fat Albert, Kenan Thompson is actually quite affecting. Whether treating the street party to some impromptu - and newly learned - rapping, jive-rope-jumping with the supposedly shy Doris to the applause of the mall, or simply getting his huge girth stuck in the TV, he always seems to be having a good time and his portrayal of pure innocence thankfully manages to remain on the right side of contrived. His cohorts, though, may look the part and, particularly in Mushman's case, sound it, but with their constant gesticulating, manic expressions and tendency to burst into song their appeal is short-lived and, in the main, they come across as merely irritating and expecting us to believe that the gorgeous Kyla Pratt as Doris cannot get a date is asking a bit much, too. Check out the looks of surprise on the gang's faces when she comes down the stairs in her party gear - man, she was way too cute even before that for the scene to work properly. Even the inclusion of the show's real-life originator, Bill Cosby (who co-wrote the movie as well) lacks the comical spark that it should have had, being far too brief and relying instead on a lazy fantastical gimmick to offer a little bit of emotional oomph to the proceedings. It doesn't work and is symptomatic of the film, in general. It's just tired, clichéd and far too well meaning and if I hear Fat Albert's tagline of “Hey, hey, hey!” one more time I might just kill someone. But for fans of the show and for kids of about the nine to twelve age range, this might just work. It's sugary, fluffy and populated with bouncy grinning characters and set against a background of a rather fairytale-ish street culture. File this one under Very Mild Diversion.
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