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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Fat Albert
Fat Albert
Fox // PG // March 22, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Mike Long | posted April 5, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Comedic legend Bill Cosby has been in the news several times over the past year for making controversial statements concerning his views on the African-American community and African-American youth in particular. In short, Mr. Cosby stated that parents must be better role-models for their children and that these children must be held responsible for their actions. Well, Cosby has put his money where his mouth is with the live-action updating of his 1970's animated show, Fat Albert. The film may be a bit shallow, but it is a family-friendly film which demonstrates the rewards of positive behavior.

As Fat Albert opens, we are introduced to high-school student Doris (Kyla Pratt). Despite the fact that she's a potential star on the track team, Doris is shy and awkward, never quite fitting in at school. This occurs despite the best efforts of Lauri (Dania Ramirez), a very close friend who lives with Doris. (Demonstrating some incredibly lax school rules and an odd choice in TV viewing) Doris leaves school one day between classes and goes home to watch the Fat Albert cartoon show on "TV Land". (How's that for odd product placement?) Ruminating on the fact that she wasn't invited to a party, Doris begins to cry and her tears hit the remote control. This opens a window between our world and the animated world of Fat Albert. Seeing that Doris is upset, the ever helpful Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson) leaps through the TV set and into her living room. He is soon joined by the rest of his gang, Rudy (Shedrack Anderson III), Bill (Keith Robinson), Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams), Bucky (Alphonso McAuley), Old Weird Harold (Aaron Frazier), and Dumb Donald (Marques Houston).

Doris explains her plight to Fat Albert and his friends and they set off to find friends for her, much to her embarrassment. Despite the fact that they are very confused by this new world that they find themselves in, Fat Albert and the gang infiltrate Doris' school and the party in their quest to make her popular. Along the way, Fat Albert finds himself fascinated by Lauri, which enrages Reggie (Omari Grandberry), who has a crush on her. While performing their good deeds, the guys realize that their colors are fading, and that they must get back to the cartoon world before they disappear completely.

To put it mildly, Fat Albert is a surprisingly odd little movie which can be tough to judge. Overall, the movie is about what you would expect from a Hollywood holiday release -- it's short and sweet and never gets too deep. The basic premise, where Fat Albert and his friends emerge from the TV, may be a bit hard for some of the younger viewers to follow, but otherwise the plot is fairly simple. The movie alternates between being sweet and funny, and save for one scene at the end, never gets too serious. There are many amusing moments in the film, but I only laughed out loud once, where the guys are trying to read a poster in a video store.

But, if one looks beneath the surface of this seemingly mediocre film, you will find some subtle differences which separate from its peers. As noted above, entertainment vet Bill Cosby is behind the film (not only did he create the original show, but he co-produced and co-wrote the movie) and he's put his personal stamp on the movie (as well as appearing in the film as himself). The movie is filled with many positive messages and shies away from the kind of toilet humor which permeates so many other "family" films today. As on the TV show, Fat Albert finds himself helping others in the film and is looked upon as an all-around problem-solver. The movie shows that helping others is a positive thing and Fat Albert is rewarded for this. Also, when faced with bullies, Fat Albert chooses alternate means to violence. This may ring hollow to some viewers, but parents will appreciate the overall "clean" feel of the film.

But, how does the movie compare to the show? Surprisingly, the movie assumes that the viewer is familiar with the show and makes little (if any) introductions of the characters. Given the fact that the show is over 30 years old and hasn't experienced the heavy syndication of many older shows, this is an odd move. For my kids, they had no idea who the characters were and I kept having to stop the DVD to explain each character's unusual trait. For those who are familiar with the show, you will be impressed with the amount of detail that has been put into the characters. Each character magically mirrors their animated counterpart, save for Rudy, who was much sassier on the show. Well-known characters like Mushmouth and Bucky come to life and adds an extra element to the movie. Fans of the old Fat Albert show will find a lot to like in this movie, and newcomers will be entertained, but may not understand all of it.

Video

Fat Albert escapes onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD features both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks quite good, especially where color is concerned. The film makes a great use of color (especially since its a part of the story) and each character has their signature tone. The colors look fantastic and never bleed onto one another. The image is very sharp and clear, showing virtually no grain and no defects from the source material. The framing appears to be accurate. There is some mild edge-enhancement present here, but it should be distracting to most viewers and artifacting is kept to a minimum.

Audio

The Fat Albert DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and shows no indication of distortion or hissing. The track is well-balanced and the dynamic range is fine. The stereo effects are notably good, especially during the street scenes. The surround and subwoofer channels really come to life during the party scene, as the crowd noise and music fill the speakers, but they never overwhelm the dialogue.

Extras

This DVD carries only a handful of extras. We start with an audio commentary from director Joel Zwick and John Davis, which accompanies both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. This is a somewhat shallow, but fun chat as the two talk about the many facets of the film. The talk never gets too technical (except for when digital enhancement is discussed) and they do a good job of talking about the actors, the sets, the look of the film and the reason for making a Fat Albert movie (where they echo some of Cosby's famous quotes). The Full-screen side of the DVD features a 10-minute segment entitled "Fat Albert: Behind the Band", which is a spoof of VH1s' Behind the Music. In this outing, Fat Albert leaves the group to find a "new sound" much to the dismay of the other members. While this is a cute idea, it isn't very engaging. The Widescreen side offers two "Extended Scenes" which are both very brief and the "Theatrical Trailer" for Fat Albert.


Amongst the sea of movies based on old TV shows, Fat Albert is that rare one which stays true to the source material, while being modern enough for younger audiences to enjoy. And while those youngsters may not understand every moment of the movie, parents can rest assured that at least the film has positive messages.
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