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FAT ALBERT

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Keenan Thompson, Kyla Pratt, Bill Cosby
Director: Joel Zwick
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 93 Minutes
Release Date: March 22, 2005

"MY HEBBA HURT!"

"Mushmouth just said his head hurts."

Film **1/2

With just about every beloved cartoon personality to get their very own feature film, from Popeye to Garfield, it was inevitable that Bill Cosby's classic creation of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids would get its live action transformation eventually. As it turns out, Fat Albert is not as much a disaster as many cartoon character-based films are. In fact, the first half of it is entertaining and quite hilarious.

With a screenplay co-written by Cosby himself, the movie transforms Fat Albert and the gang to the movie world in a most intriguing way. It starts off in the classic animated setting of North Philly where Albert and the gang reside. Albert hears something that sounds like a girl crying. It leads him and his friends to the real world, which they come into by popping out of the TV set belonging to the girl watching it.

The girl is Doris (Kyla Pratt), who is lonely and shy teenage girl and doesn't have any friends at school. She watches "Fat Albert" reruns everyday on the TV Land channel. Fat Albert (Keenan Thompson) acknowledges Doris' sadness and wants to help by getting her some friends. By doing this, he and the gang will accompany her to school and see that she gets them. Plus, they can't return to their TV world until the following day when the next rerun airs.

Albert and his cohorts; Rudy (Shedrack Anderson, III), Bill (Keith Robinson), Dumb Donald (Marques Houston), Old Weird Harold (Aaron A. Frazier), Bucky (Alphonso McAuley) and my all time favorite, Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams) are fishes out of water and aren't familiar with the perks of the modern world. Their animated setting is still in the 70s, which means they are less than lost when they see a soda with its own can opener, a man talking on a wireless phone, or an ad for Fat Albert on DVD, which the gang pronounces "de-ved".

The plot basis may be somewhat thin, but Fat Albert does have plenty of laughs along the way, mostly concerning the gang getting used to the ways of the real world. It's a scenario that may have been played out one too many times, but this time around it's a lot of fun. There's also a nice level of charm here, something that seems absent from a lot of movies aimed at kids these days, credit to Cosby for applying that element.

The high level of knowingly silly jokes is what helps to elevate Fat Albert above the standard live action cartoon movies. Albert's challenge to a track meet by the high school hothead is uproarious. The gang's first time trip to a shopping mall is frequent with laughs. The big laugh capper is the gang crashing a street party and providing a show-stopping musical performance, complete with a solo by Mushmouth. In fact, any time Mushmouth speaks gets a big laugh.

While its first half is non stop fun, the last half of Fat Albert feels a bit more forced and traditional. It's not that it's weak, but it doesn't have the energy and entertainment value of its first half. That being said, I think the movie is a good choice for kids who deserve to become familiar with Fat Albert. Adults may even have a good time with the frequent silly jokes. As a movie, the result is a mix, though I have plenty to admire about it.

Video ****

A most terrific visual presentation, courtesy of Fox, for this lively realized movie. The anamorphic picture (full screen is also included) soars with every possible video element, in terms of clarity, detail, and especially colors. Every shot in the movie results in a fantastic treat for the eyes. Indeed, a fantastic looking feature.

Audio ***1/2

There's a lot going on in Fat Albert, enough to make the 5.1 mix deliver the goods on a surprising level. Dialogue is delivered perfectly, music playback is most outstanding (especially that street party music number), and various physical pratfalls do the sound system right.

Features **1/2

A moderate level of extras on this disc, including a commentary from director Joel Zwick and producer John Davis, extended scenes, a self-kidding featurette titled "Fat Albert: Behind the Band", a trailer for this and Sandlot 2, as well as an inside look at the upcoming Ice Age 2.

Summary:

"HEY! HEY! HEY!"-I give Fat Albert plenty of credit for being as frequently funny, and charming, as it is. Although the movie's second half isn't quite as successful, this is a perfect selection for family viewing.

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