DVD EXTRA: 'Fat Albert' complete series on home video
05:00 AM, Jun 29, 2013
Bill Cosby first started telling stories about Fat Albert and the kids he grew up with in the North Philadelphia projects during his stand-up comedy routines in the 1960s. In a sketch entitled Buck Buck on Cosby’s 1967 album Revenge, kids knew the rotund youngster was on his way when the ground shook and you heard him say, “Hey, Hey, Hey.”
That sketch was the impetus for what five years later would become the beloved Saturday-morning cartoon, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. But unlike most of the animation of the time, it tried as hard to educate as it did to entertain, teaching life lessons with a good dose of humor during its original 13-year run on CBS and in syndication. It was nominated for an Emmy in 1974.
Now, for the first time, all 110 episodes have been collected on the 15-disc DVD set, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: The Complete Series (1972-85, Shout! Factory, not rated, $119). The boxed set comes with a 16-page booklet, and the documentary, Hey, Hey, Hey … It’s The Story of Fat Albert, which includes an all-new interview with Cosby.
While Albert sang the theme song, Cosby would appear briefly to tell viewers, “This is Bill Cosby comin’ at you with music and fun, and if you’re not careful you may learn something before it’s done. So let’s get ready, OK? (Fat Albert voice) Hey, hey, hey!”
Each week, Albert and his crew of friends would have to work their way through some issue that was affecting one of them personally or their school or community. Those problems ranged from the mundane (lying, playing hooky, wearing glasses, falling in love) to serious social concerns (child abuse, gang violence, drug use and racism).
Albert, who Cosby based on a childhood friend, tended to be the voice of reason among them, though sometimes that role fell to Bill, a character based on Cosby himself. Other kids included the mumbling Mushmouth (who like the first two was voiced by Cosby), the slow-witted “Dumb” Donald (Lou Scheimer), lanky beanpole “Weird” Harold (Gerald Edwards), sarcastic “Rudy” Davis (Eric Suter), the toothy Bucky (Jan Crawford) and Bill’s little brother Russell (Crawford), who has the annoying habit of being right more than the older kids like.
They don’t always agree on the subject at hand, but eventually bruised feelings are mended, lessons are learned and things work out in the end. Most episodes close with them forming a band with instruments fashioned from stuff found in their junkyard playground and singing a song about their recent adventure.
TV Guide ranked Fat Albert 12th on its list of the 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time in 2002. The show also was a hit with educators, so much so that in 1976, Cosby’s dissertation for his Doctor of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst talked about elementary school teachers using Fat Albert in the curriculum.