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Friday, December 24, 2004 - Page updated at 09:37 A.M.

"Fat Albert": Hey, hey, hey, he's a cheery dancing machine

Special to The Seattle Times

Review

There's been a lot of griping about the glut of darkly themed movies this holiday season. "Fat Albert" certainly qualifies as a spot of innocuous good cheer. But it's unlikely anyone over the age of 12 will find much to cheer about in the bland, sanitized moralizing this revamp of the decades-old Saturday morning cartoon show delivers.

Bill Cosby (who makes a cameo appearance as himself) reportedly resisted bringing the troupe of his Philadelphia childhood pal-inspired characters to the big screen. It's easy to see the struggle he must have had transporting his animated '70s junkyard gang into 21st-century urban reality, especially given his well-known stance as a stodgy critic of profane modern culture.

The real-life renderings of the gang aren't the problem. Rudy, Old Weird Harold, Bill, Mushmouth, Bucky, Dumb Donald and fat-suited Albert himself ("Saturday Night Live's" Kenan Thompson in a wholehearted "Hey, hey, hey!" transformation) are all enthusiastic impersonators of their cartoon selves.

Opening Dec. 25

** "Fat Albert" with Kenan Thompson, Kyla Pratt, Shedrack Anderson III, Keith Robinson, Bill Cosby. Directed by Joel Zwick from a script by William H. Cosby Jr., Ed.D., and Charles Kipps. 92 minutes. Rated PG for momentary language. Several theaters.

The setbacks come with the utter unreality of the world they encounter when they literally jump from their cartoon show in TV Land (the cable network) into the life of a lonely teen named Doris (Kyla Pratt). Albert's obsession to solve people's problems has transferred to the other side of the screen thanks to a tear Doris shed on the TV remote. Much to her shock and horror, he and the gang are determined to help her become popular and happy at school.

Marveling at cellphones and posters hawking the DVD collection of their own show, they dance happily about the sunny Hollywood backlot version of a North Philly neighborhood that looks more like Sesame Street than Elkins Avenue. The longer they're out of cartoonland, their personalities become more lifelike at the same rate that their brightly colored costumes fade. But they do keep the cheer in balance.

They go to the mall, they trade guileless junkyard-philosophy barbs with the mean kids at school, Rudy finds love with Doris and Albert with her hot foster sister (Dania Ramirez). They learn lessons, and there's a cheesy sentimental plot point that affects them all.

Did I mention they also dance? Albert dances at the drop of a hat, and the whole gang gets an entire block party moving to a disinfected rap version of the "Fat Albert" theme song. Oh, how that Fat Albert loves to dance. And to help people. Too bad he can't help his own movie a little more.

Ted Fry: tedfry@earthlink.net

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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