Fat Albert

on December 25, 2004 by Paul Clinton
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Uttering the memorably cuddly “Hey, hey, hey,” Bill Cosby's rotund bearer of optimism and life lessons inhabited a North Philly junkyard on a CBS Saturday morning cartoon from 1972 to 1984. Now, Cosby's character comes to live-action life in “Fat Albert,” an uneven effort that isn't as dreary as it would appear. Fat Albert, like Santa Claus, is a tough character to hate.

Fat Albert (“SNL's” Kenan Thompson) pops out of the TV set of Doris (Kyla Pratt), while she's watching the show to help with her problem: She has no friends.

When he's not tossing off clusters of his signature “heys,” Fat Albert charms Doris' high school friends with hip-hop renditions of his songs and honey-dipped moral lessons. In his biggest coup, Fat Albert sticks around long enough to inspire Doris to help her track team win a relay event, nudging her to "be the best you can be."

Director Joel Zwick, working from a script by Cosby and Charles Kipps, rolls with Cosby's homespun humor. He's said he identified with the characters Cosby based on his stand-up in the 1960s and life growing up in Philly a decade earlier. Thankfully, Zwick veers away from the raunchy humor that marred the Dr. Seuss movies. But in a blatantly commercial gesture, Zwick carefully angles his camera to capture background posters on a storefront advertising the DVD release of the original show. And the set-bound movie leans too much on its back-lot settings.

Actors style their performances after the cartoon, injecting spurts of emotion that don't muddle the timing of the lines. Thompson's restraint is admirable and apropos.

The Warner Bros. animators have provided glossy cartoon sequences that, while professionally drawn, don't have the same charm as the original. Starring Kenan Thompson, Kyla Pratt and Dania Ramirez. Directed by Joel Zwick. Written by Bill Cosby and Charles Kipps. Produced by John Davis. A Fox release. Comedy. Rated PG for momentary language. Running time: 93 min

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