Did they have to make Fat Albert a moron?
In the early-'70s Saturday morning cartoons on which this film is based, Fat Albert and his gang - a well-behaved gaggle of North Philadelphia street kids - were always too precious, lacking the comic bite that creator Bill Cosby gave them in performance. Of course, the TV show was aimed at the very young, so the lack of edge was forgivable.
But on the big screen, Fat Albert has been turned into an ignoramus. Yanked from his cartoon setting into the real world by a distressed girl's tears, Albert (Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson in a fat suit) and his pals - Dumb Donald, Mushmouth, Old Weird Harold - decide that it's their mission to make her happy.
A horrified Doris (Kyla Pratt) insists she's perfectly fine, but the boys know better. She needs some friends, quick.
So how do they help her get them? Why, by walking up to all the popular kids at school - cheerleaders, for example - and asking them, in front of everybody, to befriend Doris.
I understand that the film's conceit is that Albert and his buds have been ripped out of a '70s TV show and plopped into the new millennium, so it's understandable they'd be out of touch. But as anyone who has ever been in junior high knows, such an invitation, whether now or 30 years ago, would result in derision and more misery for poor Doris. Which, of course, is what happens. But Fat and the gang persevere.
It would be great to report that Fat Albert represents a successful return to the values of friendship and camaraderie that some of us old fogies are convinced were better observed back when we were young.
And it would be nice to predict that youths will flock to this movie and embrace its message.
But that's not going to happen, because Fat Albert is simply out of place regardless of its setting. Kids, except for the very youngest, are going to be bored, and parents, including those who remember Cosby's creations with smiles, are going to look with little fondness on the day their memories were so rudely disturbed.
SUN SCORE 1 1/2 stars (* 1/2)
Starring Kenan Thompson, Kyla Pratt
Directed by Joel Zwick
Released by 20th Century Fox
Rated PG (momentary language)
Time 93 minutes