Hey, hey, hey? No, no, no. A clunky mix of animated hijinx, live-action farce and inspirational uplift, “Fat Albert” is flat-footed and ham-handed in its attempt to reconstitute a popular ’70s TV cartoon show as a full-length, family-skewing feature. Pic could score small change during holiday season, but, after the little ones are back in school, expect slim pickings until homevid window opens.
Loosely based on classic standup comedy routines (and childhood experiences) of Bill Cosby, the original “Fat Albert and His Friends” TV skein offered toon entertainment spiked with bite-size chunks of feel-good life lessons. (Sort of like “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” but with fewer laughs and without Skeletor.) Feature spinoff was co-written by Cosby and Charles Kipps and also includes well-meaning advice for impressionable youngsters.
On the bigscreen, however, the preaching is more than a tad too pronounced, if not downright overbearing. And the flesh-and-blood actors who take over the roles of the cartoon characters are more frenetic than funny.
Kenan Thompson (a standout in the current “Saturday Night Live” ensemble) is heavily padded and curiously bland in the title role of the rotund South Philly teenager. Character first appears in toon incarnation while Doris (Kyla Pratt), a lonely high schooler in real-world South Philly, watches a TV Land rerun of the ’70s series. When depressed Doris sheds a tear that splatters her remote control, she inadvertently opens a transdimensional portal very similar to the one used as plot device in 2000’s unfortunate “Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.” As a result, Fat Albert is able to leap from the TV and emerge in Doris’ living room as a flesh-and-blood entity.
Six of Fat Albert’s buddies join him for the bumpy ride into reality: Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams), Old Weird Harold (Aaron A. Frazier), Rudy (Shedrack Anderson III), Bill (Keith D. Robinson), Bucky (Alphonso McAuley) and Dumb Donald (Marques B. Houston). These actors are required to do nothing more than behave like live-action cartoons. And that’s precisely what they do.
Much like his cartoon counterpart, the corporeal Fat Albert takes it upon himself to dispense advice and solve problems. Despite Doris’ aversion to being seen in public with seven oddballs who sport anachronistic ’70s attire and attitudes, Fat Albert and the gang help the wilting wallflower gain acceptance from her classmates. Fat Albert also develops a crush on Doris’ foster sister, Lauri (Dania Ramirez), who has her own hangups that need tending.
Trouble is, neither Albert nor his buddies can linger in the real world: The longer they remain outside of the TV universe, the more they literally fade away.
Despite occasional flurries of busy buffoonery in parks, shopping malls and all-too-obvious studio back lots, nothing much really happens in “Fat Albert.” Pic generates a few modest chuckles whenever ’70s-era toons-turned-humans react to such 21st century products as laptops, cell phones, rap music and pull-top soda cans. For most part, however, fish-out-of-water aspects of scenario are surprisingly underdeveloped.
Oddly enough, only two small children ever notice that Fat Albert and friends are actually refugees from a popular TV show. The lack of recognition seems all the more bizarre every time pic cuts to close-up of prominent vidstore poster promoting the DVD release of “Fat Albert and His Friends.”
Under flatly unimaginative direction of Joel Zwick (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), “Fat Albert” moves at a pokey pace and comes to a dead stop each time Fat Albert earnestly delivers a life lesson.
It’s probably best not to take any of this too seriously. Otherwise, you might wonder why Cosby (who appears, briefly and to little effect, as himself) co-wrote a movie that appears to undermine his real-life admonishments regarding the need for young African-Americans to take control of their destinies and improve their lives. In “Fat Albert,” the chronically indecipherable Mushmouth learns to speak eloquently and Dumb Donald educates himself while in the real world. Once they’re back in the cartoon universe, however, they’re returned to “normal.” And, worse, pic posits this devolution as a good thing.
Animated sequences are unremarkable. Production values in real-world scenes rarely rise above the level of routine sitcom writ large.