Watching “Fat Albert” in 2020 with the knowledge of the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby definitely made the film a little odd to watch. However, even without the allegations out there, viewing the film 16 years after its release doesn’t make the film any better.
In the film, Doris Robertson, played by Kyla Pratt, is still reeling from the loss of her grandfather and has been distancing herself from others despite her foster sister Lauri, played by Dania Ramirez, suggesting she live her life. One day while watching a “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” rerun on TV Land, Doris cries on the TV remote signaling Fat Albert, played by Kenan Thompson, to her. Seeing she has a problem, Fat Albert and his gang jump out of the TV and come into the real world.
The gang, now in 2004 rather than their 1970s cartoon, are trapped in the real world until the show comes back on the next day much to Doris’s annoyance. Fat Albert soon makes it his mission to help Doris with her social problems and get her to make friends. While this is going on, a group of teens in the show decide to take over Fat Albert’s junkyard with only their friend Russell, voiced by Jeremy Suarez, there to try and defend their territory.
“Fat Albert” goes down the interesting route of taking the characters out of a cartoon world and bring them into the real world, similar to the 2011 film “The Smurfs.” However, the fact that this is done really adds not too much to the story besides give fake stakes. Unlike like a film like “The Smurfs,” Fat Albert and his friends aren’t some fantastical creatures that need to be hidden or change up the world in anyway. They are just a group of kids who hang out in a junkyard from the 70s. A reboot of the series would’ve been better served following a concept similar to “The Brady Bunch Movie,” where the characters still act the same way they did in their series but put up against a contrasting modern environment.
The cartoon world aspect of the film is also odd in that the characters know they are characters in a cartoon series and the show itself is continually going. Before the characters even leave the show, they mention how they are in a cartoon with the “episode’s” guest star mentioning she has been on other series. Along with that, the cartoon itself seems to be continually going with the absence of the characters being shown in the show despite the show being in re-runs. This just serves to make the logic of the film confusing and almost a waste of the concept. Being in the real world doesn’t really blow their minds or make them question their existence, they just continue being themselves.
Another disappointing aspect of the film is the Cosby kids themselves. Only a few of the actual characters are given anything to do or some sort of development. Characters such as Bill, played by Keith Robinson, and Bucky, played by Alphonso McAuley, serve no purpose to the plot and could’ve been left in the cartoon world with nothing lost. Some of the other characters are actually given something to do in the real world though. Dumb Donald, played by Marques Houston, finds himself to actually be smart and sees that in the real world he does have a face under his cap. Mushmouth, played by Jermaine Williams, learns to speak in an intelligible way. Old Weird Harold, played by Aaron Frazier, finds himself to not be so clumsy and is an actually good basketball player.
These changes to character would actually be interesting but when the characters return to the cartoon they revert back to their old ways. This almost invalidates everything done in the real world. The characters learning new things about themselves or gaining new skills is just taken away and makes their developments almost pointless.
With this, Fat Albert and Rudy, played by Shedrack Anderson III, are given development in way of getting love interests in Lauri and Doris respectively. However, this is really just a weird subplot. These characters can never really date or form a real relationship. Fat Albert and Rudy also never have any problem with pursuing these relationships despite knowing they are characters in a cartoon show.
All of this shouldn’t be to say that the film is completely bad. I did laugh a good amount of times, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. There is some funny instances in the film and it is not totally devoid of humor. The only real problem with the film is the waste in the concept.
Before I end of the review, it would be leaving out a major aspect of the film if I didn’t mention the Bill Cosby scene. Near the end of the film, Fat Albert goes to Bill Cosby’s house to talk about his situation and Doris. Through this conversation, Cosby reveals that Doris’s grandfather was the inspiration for the character of Fat Albert, something that is true in real life. This aspect of the film is actually interesting and could’ve been explored a bit more if there were scenes focusing more on the grandpa in some way.
All in all, “Fat Albert” is a mess of a film that doesn’t really work in many aspect. While it may have a lot of humor in it, that doesn’t save it from being a seemingly pointless film with a message that isn’t really explained too well.