July 21, 2011

Minorities in comics and animation: Fat Albert

Minorities in comics and animation: Fat Albert

Fat AlbertThis week’s entry is about the popular 1970s TV cartoon, Fat Albert.

Background

Fat Albert started off as a character in a comedy routine of his creator, Bill Cosby, before making the leap to (limited) animation.

As my fellow Gen-X-ers may recall, Fat Albert is a heavy-set Black youth. He spent his time hanging out with his odd assortment of friends at their clubhouse. Their clubhouse was based in an inner-city junkyard. Each episode saw the gang get involved in various misadventures, learning various life lessons along the way.

An assortment of social issues were dealt with in a kid-friendly fashion. The issues ranged from mild ones, like nutrition, to more serious ones like gun violence or drugs. There was usually a song number at the end of each episode. The gang played musical instruments made from junkyard junk, and sang about the episode’s moral.

Despite broadcast stations nowadays treating the “E/I” requirement as a nuisance, “Fat Albert” was probably one of the most successful educational series to appear on commercial television. It’s also one of the longest-running animated series starring an African-American character. “Fat Albert” debuted on CBS in 1972, after a one-shot special aired in 1969. The series ran (with a shift from CBS to syndication late in its run) through 1985. A few holiday specials were also produced.

I enjoyed watching “Fat Albert” as a kid; the show was a Saturday morning staple for me and my younger sister. By today’s standards, of course, it’s not well-animated. Filmation, “Fat Albert”‘s animators, was the “dollar store” of animation studios. Still, it struck a chord with plenty of kid viewers in the 70s and 80s.

Other media

The series has been parodied plenty of times. “South Park” once had a parody called “Fat Abbot,” showing the gang as foul-mouthed, stereotypical inner-city youth. Meanwhile, “Animaniacs” featured “Obese Orson.” Orson was a white version of Fat Albert, complete with his show’s cheap animation clashing with that of the Warners.

A live-action “Fat Albert” movie played in theaters in 2004. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good.

On TV/home video

“Fat Albert” has been aired on some cable channels, as well as digital subchannel nostalgia networks, in recent years. However, with Bill Cosby’s legal problems and fall from popularity, all such airings have been dropped from American television. Given that, it’s unclear (at this writing) if or when the series will ever air again on TV. (Other Cosby-related TV shows have similarly been pulled from airwaves.)

A complete series DVD box set was released in 2013.

(Updated 11/5/16)

Tags: African-AmericansanimationFat AlbertFilmationMediaminorities in cartoonstrivia