Hey, hey, hey—you knew the review would start this way! Fat Albert funnels the titular full-figure ’70s cartoon Samaritan (Kenan Thompson) and his junkyard chums to the actual North Philly, via the television set of latchkey high-schooler Doris (Kyla Pratt). Doris is so down in the dumps that even a somewhat cryptic note on the fridge (“Dad is on a two-day trip to the Poconos”) elicits instant copious tears. Fat Albert tries to recruit friends for the mortified girl, at the same time falling for her foster sister, Lauri (Dania Ramirez). The longer that F.A. and his celluloid minions stay in our problem-plagued, tech-stoked universe (where the Fat Albert DVD, or “dividi” as the clueless crew pronounces it, is on sale), the more their colors fade. But curiously, such immersion also teaches klutzy Old Weird Harold (Aaron A. Frazier) how to slam-dunk, and Dumb Donald (Marques B. Houston) to study 20-odd volumes of African American history.
The animated scenes conjure aromas of the stilted Clifford, and the overall approach is to throw preordained movie sequences (rap number, shopping spree) together and hope for the best. But when our hefty hero tracks down original series creator Bill Cosby, the movie’s meta impulse becomes oddly touching. Spoiler alert: Turns out Doris is the granddaughter of the late Al Robertson, Cosby’s friend and the inspiration for his pudgy protag. Uncomfortable as ironic revival or fresh entertainment, Fat Albert works best as a sort of multimedia, subtext-saturated, decades-spanning ghost story.