In 2004, Bill Cosby touched off a storm of controversy with his outspoken comments about black youth’s vernacular and how “lower economic people” are failing as parents, from the way they shop for their children to the names they give them.
A few suggested that Cosby, creator of a ’70s Saturday morning cartoon featuring inner-city kids playing and hanging out in a junkyard, had become a snobbish millionaire hypocrite. The new film version of Fat Albert, inexplicably released some two decades later, seems to allow The Cos to readily answer any such detractors.
Fat Albert, the movie, is a mainly live-action feature that builds on the cartoon’s portly, lovable title character and his relationship with the colorful adolescent crew that resembles Cosby’s childhood peers. With not so much as one “ain’t” in the dialogue or anything resembling a sexual overture, the cute, but flawed, film allows Cosby to wag his finger far more subtly than he did when reprimanding younger generations in his now infamous speech.
As the writer and executive producer, Cosby puts forth the ridiculous premise that Fat Albert must leave his cartoon world to help lonely teenager Doris come out of her shell after her sadness is transmitted through a tear that falls onto the TV remote control. Much of what could be excused in animation fails to translate effectively in a live-action script, coming across as cornball. But where Fat Albert succeeds is in bringing to life a decent 3-D replica of the big fella, in Kenan Thompson’s warm-spirited portrayal.
Yet sadly, beyond the unforgettable cry of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” there’s not much here for purists who remember waking up with the Cosby kids every weekend. Fat Albert and the gang occasionally rap and dance in that terribly overused cinematic method of updating classics to reflect contemporary styles.
Other bad script calls include the remaking of characters: Dumb Donald hits the library and Mush Mouth is taught to speak proper English. Cosby’s on an increase-the-dignity mission!
For folks younger than maybe 20, however, the gang’s new look won’t seem like a shortfall. And the Cos makes his point that kids can be nice, cool and well-spoken. Hooray!
Eddie B. Allen Jr. writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].