Christmas 2004 was a season of mixed blessings, movie-wise. We got “The Aviator” and “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” — but we also got “Meet the Fockers,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” and “Fat Albert.”
Oh, “Fat Albert.” How I hated you. It takes a very special movie to make Bill Cosby — one of the most admired, beloved and respected entertainers of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s — seem like a self-important, self-serious schmuck. The movie version of his TV cartoon, of which new episodes were produced irregularly from 1972-85, assumed a level of reverence for the show that simply didn’t exist in the moviegoing audience. But how do you tell Bill Cosby that nobody’s as invested in his characters as he is?
The film did poorly at the box office ($48 million) and got bad reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, only 23% of critics spoke favorably of it. I’m amused to note that a lot of those “Fresh” reviews had to bend over backwards to praise it:
“Pure of heart, devoid of toilet humor, it sticks close enough to Bill Cosby’s cartoon series to pass muster.” — Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News.
“There are no bodily function jokes in ‘Fat Albert,’ and not one disbelieving or stupid parental figure. As family fare goes, that alone may be worth the price of admission.” — Liz Braun, Jam! Movies.
“An innocuous high-concept comedy.” — Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Daily News.