Scott Shaw! writes about Fat Alberts return to animation within his first venture into live-action.
Youd have to be stranded on a desert island to be unaware of the upcoming Fat Albert feature film from 20th Century Fox, to be released on Christmas Day 2004. Whether or not this live-action concept will meet the publics expectations is up to the holiday audiences, but fortunately, the cartoon versions of the Cosby kids should please most animation fans mainly because theyve been revived and reinvented by some of animations most heavyweight cartoonists.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (also titled The New Fat Albert Show and The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids)originally aired on CBS from Sept. 9, 1972 to Aug. 25, 1984. Created and story-edited by comedian Bill Cosby, the characters originated in his standup monologues during the 1960s, supposedly based on residents of his childhood home in North Philadelphia. Cosby himself voiced Fat Albert, Bill and Mushmouth (and their TV cartoon hero, the Brown Hornet) as well as appearing in live-action wraparound segments. The remainder of the animated cast of Afro-American urban adolescents included Rudy, Dumb Donald, Bucky and Old Weird Harold.
First came the long-since-unseen NBCs 1969 primetime network special, Hey! Hey! Hey! Its Fat Albert, directed by Ken Mundie and produced by Campbell-Silver-Cosby, with a score by jazz great Herbie Hancock. (Mundie had already designed and directed the main title sequence for NBCs I Spy series, co-starring Cosby.) Although animated in an entirely different approach, it spawned the Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids series, produced by Filmations Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescot while directed by Hal Sutherland. Entirely animated at the San Fernando Valley studio, the show relied on scripts that emphasized positive social values and a combination of limited and stock animation (especially used during its musical sequences).
In 1974, it received an Emmy Award nomination. After its twelve-year-long network run, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids continued to draw an audience in syndication. The series even spawned a 29-issue Gold Key comicbook series. (On Dec. 14 2004, UrbanWorks Entertainment/Ventura Distribution released a new DVD boxed set of the greatest hits of Filmations original Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids in what is being called as the ultimatecollection.)
Now, 20 years after they left network television, Fat Albert and the other Cosby kids return in a live-action feature film directed by Joel (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) Zwick and written by Bill Cosby and Charles Kipps. The film stars the comparatively svelte Kenan Thompson as Fat Albert, Shedrack Anderson III as Rudy, Jermaine Williams as Mushmouth, Keith Robinson as Bill, Alphonso McAuley as Bucky, Aaron Frazier as Old Weird Harold and Marques Houston as Dumb Donald. As telegraphed by the films trailers and TV ads, theres also a short cameo appearance by Bill Cosby as himself.
In Fat Albert, a young girls teardrop somehow creates a rift in reality that allows the animated Fat Albert and most of his gang to travel from their cartoon junkyard into the real worldtransforming them into real live-action kids! (Russell remains in animated form to keep an eye on their trash-strewn turf back home.) How the old school Cosby kids react and adjust to the new millennium - and to become flesh-and-blood humans provides the basis for much of this films humor.
Fat Albert features approximately 12 minutes of all-new animation, directed by Bert Klein and produced by Susan Szwerman and John Bush. Although given a six-month production schedule, the actual animation was done in only two and a half months, by some of Hollywoods most talented and dedicated animators. The footage was entirely produced at Sherman Oaks Warner Bros. Animation, through the remainder of its post-Looney Tunes: Back In Action feature animation department. I am very proud that all of the rough animation was done in the states, Bert remarks.
Storyboards for the animated sequences were concocted by Klein, James (Jamie) Lopez, Tony DeRosa and Robert Lence. Bert recalls, Tony DeRosa supervising animator on practically all of the Disney features during the 90s was key in the storyboards and kept us all in stitches with his dead-on Bill Cosby impressions. We would get together at lunchtime and watch old Disney animation from the 40s to geek out and get inspired.
Since the original Filmation Fat Albert character designs (created by Alberto DeMello) remain the property of Hallmark Entertainment, new versions needed to be designed. That task fell to James Lopez and Tony DeRosa - who also served as supervising animators. Bert explains that The designs of the characters in the movie boils down to the personal style of Jaimie Lopez, who was a supervising animator at Disney Feature Animation for 10 years.
One of Jaimies key mentors was Bruce (Bebes Kids) Smith and it shows in his work. I worked with Bruce as well when I was at Disney.
Their challenge was to keep the character designs simple, with aspects of the live-action actors portraying them but easily identifiable as the same characters from the 1970s. (And arent we more than a bit relieved to know that the lead character hasnt been updated to Phat Albert?)
Ed Ghertner was the animations layout supervisor. Additional layouts were drawn by Gary Mouri and Fred Craig.
Fat Albert s animation crew (in addition to director Klein and supervisors Lopez and DeRosa) included James Baker, Julian Chaney, Crystal Chesney, Adam Dykstra, Eric Goldberg, Chris Hubbard, Ron Husband, Todd Jacobsen, Emily Juliano, Jaimie Oliff, Kevin Petrilak, Phil Pignotti, Dave Pimentel, Beth Sleven, Chris Sonenburg, Bob Tyler (who also worked on the original Filmation version of Fat Albert), Bill Waldman, Dean Wellins and Andreas Wessel-Therhorn. This team of talented cartoonists have given Fat Albert and company an inner life, attitude, energy and, well, weight that was barely hinted at in their original animated incarnation. The only obvious concession to the original Filmation series is Fat Alberts habit of pointing directly at the audience with a dramatically foreshortened index finger.
The sequences special effects were animated by Gordon Baker (who was previously nominated for an Oscar on his work on Tim Burtons The Nightmare Before Christmas.) Key animation cleanup was performed by Tracy Lee and Taik Lee. Steve Mills and Dave Scarpiti were the scene planners. Jason Tucker and Julie Rogers were the animation editors.
Eric Goldberg was gracious enough to animate several key scenes in Fat Albert. Whenever he brought a scene in, the rest of the animators would study his scenes a frame at a time, Bert recalls. Eric is, in my opinion, the greatest animation genius of our generation and his scenes raised the bar for the rest of us.
The animation also includes a handful of CG shots, mainly in and around the Cosby kids junkyard hangout. The CG crew consisted of Thomas Dickens, Jennifer Hachigian Jerrard, Paul Runyan and Dave Williams. Cosby (whos apparently a big believer in cartoons, considering the fact that hes also the exec producer of both Nick Jr.s Little Bill and Nick At Nites Fatherhood animated series) was adamant regarding the employment of the latest advances in computerized animation. (Fortunately, these scenes support the crews hand-drawn animation rather than upstage it.) Bert comments on Cosbys involvement, He did receive copies of what we were doing and gave notes. We were always pleased when word got back that he was happy with what we were doing.
The animated sequences color designer was Alan (Mickeys Twice Upon a Christmas) Bodner, whose artistic mentor was Irv Kaplan, the supervisor of backgrounds on Filmations original Fat Albert series) and Susan Goldberg, with backgrounds painted by Dennis Venizelos. They succeeded in evoking and far surpassing the color palette of the backgrounds of the original Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
Chris (Kim Possible) Bailey served as an exec consultant for Fox. Says Bert, Our crew at Warner Bros. owed a great deal for giving us his support. It was key to selling the style of animation we wanted to do with the Fox executives as he was our liaison to Fox.
Director Klein, who cites the great animator Freddie Moore as one of his primary influences, has been making his own animated films since he was 13. He began his animation career as a high school intern at Film Roman in the early 1990s. But long before then, Bert was a big fan of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: I loved the show as a kid. I found it strangely compelling to watch, but I couldnt say why. I liked Dumb Donald best because of that crazy hat.
Since then, hes worked on such notable (and diversely so) animated projects as Disneys The Lion King and Fantasia 2000s Rhapsody In Blue sequence, FOXs The Simpsons, Warner Bros. Looney Tunes: Back in Action and even Peter Jacksons live-action The Return of the King. Bert also recently co-directed (with his friend Teddy Newton), Boys Night Out, a short cartoon. He is currently handling layout and animation duties on the Donald Duck sequence of a new Disney anniversary special directed by Renegade Animations Darrell Van Citters.
This new Fat Albert may not be your fathers version of the character, but what th hey, hey, hey? Cartoonist Floyd Norman who was present at the creation of the original Hey! Hey! Hey! Its Fat Albert TV special 35 years ago says, No matter how the movie turns out, its nice to know that a bunch of truly talented artists had the opportunity to do some really great work on the film. In animated form (at least) thanks to Bert and his crew the resuscitated Fat Albert is guaranteed to be even bigger and better than ever!
Scott Shaw! is an award-winning writer/cartoonist whos recently worked on Krypto The Superdog and Whats New, Scooby-Doo? for Warner Bros., KatBot for Funny Garbage, Mickeys Twice Upon a Christmas, Mulan 2 and American Dragon: Jake Long for Disney and The Adventures of Scooter McDoogal for Education Comics. Scott!s work has also appeared in Bongos Simpsons Comics No. 100 and Bart Simpson Comics No. 20, and hes recently illustrated The Dozens and new Garbage Pail Kids collector cards for Topps, Inc., package art for Post Pebbles cereal and print ads for Islands restaurants. Additionally, Scott! writes Oddball Comics, a weekly Internet column about the craziest comicbooks ever published for Comic Book Resources at www.comicbookresources.com You can also visit Scott!s own Website at www.shawcartoons.com.