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starring Kenan Thompson, Kyla Pratt, Dania Ramirez, Bill Cosby
screenplay by William H. Cosby, Jr. & Charles Kipps
directed by Joel Zwick
by Bill Chambers The memory I have of watching Bill Cosby's "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" as a wee lad is that it always left me a little bit depressed, like listening to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" or dining at the Ponderosa restaurant. (Doesn't "ponderosa" mean "weighty" in English?) Subtext is a kind of phantom presence when you're five or six years old: you're too young to be able to read it but also young enough that you've not yet been blinded by anti-intellectualism to everything below the surface. I realize now that it was probably through the Saturday-morning buzzkill of "Fat Albert..." that I became cognizant of poverty, and just the fact that the show was populated with an all-black cast of ragamuffins (almost all of whom suffered from learning disabilities) took the patronizing sting out of its NBC Life Lessons--it was less pious than it was possessed of an old soul. I'm happy to report that Fat Albert, an anachronism of a live-action feature film based on the long-running (and long-cancelled) cartoon, captures a lot of its source's melancholy appeal. Moreover, its ideas are provocative verging on profound, although they're shackled to a sketchy screenplay (by Cosby and Charles Kipps) and an aesthetic that is as paint-by-numbers as the animation that inspired it. No surprise that director Joel Zwick hails from television--multi-camera sitcoms, to be precise.