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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Teens > Animation > Fat Albert (2004/Live Action)

Fat Albert (2004/Live Action)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: C     Film: C



It should have been an easy no-brainer, to bring the classic Saturday Morning animated cartoon Fat Albert to life.  Getting Kenan Thompson was a real casting coup, and a big studio like Fox was backing the film.  The opening was promising, though the big disappointment there was not that the classic theme song was changed to some predictable Hip-Hop-type piece, but that it was a watered-down piece of pop music.  This made the original sound like it was cut at Stax Records.


Fine, so we move on.  Visually, the film makes an interesting distinction.  The living world of live action of Albert’s animated home always shows up shot in the full Panavision scope frame.  Anything in between is cut up, including transformations between the two worlds.  The animation of the “classic” version of the show has been updated and recreated by Warner Bros. Animators in their current style, which is fine, though not as charming or solid as the older, cheaper Filmation work.  That now was two things to forgive, but that is still just aesthetic.  However, as soon as the kids arrive in the real world, the film collapses into a really bad episode of Cosby Show spin-off A Different World, more or less.  Even worse, the conclusion is excellent after the severe dip in quality throughout.


What went wrong?  For one thing, there is a contradiction in what are essentially two era of this franchise and two eras of Cosby’s career.  There is the original Cosby and Fat Albert, which comes out of an R&B tradition and is for all intents and purposes, part of the counterculture.  Later shows that added The Brown Hornet and lost its social conscience led the way to a regression that put the franchise out of commission for years.  The Mr. Cosby himself became part of the Neo-Conservative 1980s with The Cosby Show, a tricky groundbreaker to complicated to go into here.  However that is, it left behind the Bill Cosby who did hit comedy films with Sidney Poitier and Richard Prior, the Cosby of I Spy and the Cosby of the grossly underrated Hickey & Boggs (reviewed elsewhere on this site).  The result is a film that gets to silly, predictable, muddled and broad, thanks to a strange identity crisis rarely seen in any franchise film.


The costumes for the characters in the live action word worked, as well as the sincere attempt at a kid-friendly PG film for a change, but PG does not have to stand for Pathetic Goods, Petty Goofiness or Patently Godawful.  Instead, there was a time when PG (and this has nothing to do with PG-13’s establishment) could easily mean a rich and effective blockbuster film that had to rely on the screenplay.  Now, it means half-hearted and weak.  Too bad.  Cosby plans a sequel to this, even though this had not fared that well, but with so much room for improvement and the ideological contradictions, that would make it at least an interesting failure like this one.  Some young children may like this, but start them off with the original show, which is NOT showing on Nick At Nite TV Land like this film suggests.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 version of the film annihilates the 1.33 X 1 flipside of the DVD, with better colors and framing throughout.  The cartoon color schemes make this more bearable viewing, as shot by cinematographer Paul Elliott.  The color is so good, you’ll wish the whole film was animated.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 is more typical of a limited multi-channel mix of the kind we hear too much of.  The music is nothing memorable, including Dave Jordan’s incidental music likely pushed down to be TV-like through no fault of his own.  DTS could not help that theme remake, though, so forget this sonically.  Extras include two extended scenes, trailers, a featurette, and a commentary by producer John Davis and director Joel Zwick.


Hip-Hop has done an interesting (if not thorough enough) absorbing of the original Fat Albert and that alone could make this an odd, unexpected cult item, not unlike how the failed and mostly derided Hulk feature film (also with a possible sequel) found a hardcore audience in the cult category.  We’ll see what happens then, but you can see this first Fat Albert for yourself and judge if it has these problems.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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