As a child of the ‘70’s — an era long ago before cable TV, videotapes/DVDs/Blu-Rays and videogame consoles — the “Saturday Morning Cartoon” blocks on CBS, NBC and ABC were a lifesaver. The shows ran the gamut from classic Chuck Jones “Looney Tunes” shorts to contemporary animation like “Scooby-Doo” and “Hong Kong Phooey” to hallucinogenic live-action insanity from Sid and Marty Krofft (“Lidsville,” anyone?). But the keystone of mid-‘70’s animation was “Fat Albert,” the hip, funky and surprisingly socially conscious show that came from the mind of the great Bill Cosby, long before he wore ugly knit sweaters as Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.” Shout Factory (through a deal with Classic Media) have released the entire “Complete Series” in one giant 15 DVD set that encompasses all of the show’s iterations — save for three holiday specials which Classic Media have released separately — spanning nearly a decade and a half.


The show had three different iterations, with most kids knowing it from its oft-repeated 1972-1976 heyday. “Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids” isn’t like other Saturday Morning Cartoons— instead of playing up weird characters (“Captain Caveman”) or creatures, the show, based on Bill Cosby’s own early years, is centered in reality. Fat Albert and his band of oddball friends — ranging from the good-guy Bill (representing Cosby himself) to the hat-over-his-eyes Dumb Donald; tiny wisecracking Russell; slick Rudy and the the babbling Mushmouth — live in the 'hood and hang out in a junkyard where they’re able to cobble together band instruments out of discarded trash. The characters trade insults (“You’re like school in summer— no class!”) but care for one another and the social commentary in each show teaches positive life lessons about caring for one another, telling the truth and respecting people’s differences. Fat Albert may be huge and talk funny, but is surprisingly quick on his feet and has a heart of gold.


The show struggles as it pushes forward— the jive fashions (dig Rudy’s quasi-Pimpsploitation outfit) and funky soul music that made it such a ‘70’s time capsule stick way out of place as “The Adventures Of Fat Albert And the Cosby Kids” pushed all the way to 1986; later episodes such as one where Fat Albert and the gang to a school talent show where they cheer on synth-playing white New Wavers haven’t aged well. The addition of the superhero parody “The Brown Hornet” feels like padding and the animation — particularly as the show eventually seems to center on how Fat Albert helps out white kids who look like they stepped out of “Archie” comics — feels a bit cheap. But this only showcases just how good the show is at its best. To little kids of any race, Fat Albert is the protective big brother you always needed— he’s a good guy with a strong moral backbone who, even when it hurts him or gets him in trouble, does the right thing for the right reasons— and plays a radiator as a concertina.


The box set itself is a thing of beauty— five multi-disc DVD cases inside a slipcase showcasing Fat Albert and his pals — and the video quality is good throughout, with it being increasingly obvious how the animation goes down in quality as the show progresses into the ‘80s. The show is broken down by season— we get five discs devoted to the original “Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids” (1972-1976), three to the 1979-1980 “New Fat Albert Show” and a whopping seven discs to “The Adventures Of Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids” from 1984-1985. The last disc contains the set’s sole extra, but it’s a good one— a nearly hour-long retrospective on the series focusing on Bill Cosby, the origin of the show and the impact it’s had (the dreadful 2004 movie adaptation fortunately gets nary a mention). We learn that the show had its origins from a skit from one of Cosby’s comedy albums and that it all is a reflection on Cosby’s youth in the Philadelphia housing projects in the late 1940s. When the show started in 1972, Cosby wasn’t the grandfatherly comic figure we see him now— following TV shows like “I Spy” and “The Bill Cosby Show,” he starred in gritty movies such as 1972’s Hickey & Boggs, written by Walter Hill and directed by his “I Spy” co-star Robert Culp and even broader comedies like Uptown Saturday Night and Mother, Jugs & Speed have a real edge to them. But to kids everywhere, Bill was Fat Albert’s pal, the host of every single episode of the show who occasionally helped explain the life lessons that were being taught. It’s hard to see fans of the show — and anyone else who digs the ‘70’s — not falling hard for this collection. You can buy it from Amazon or directly from Shout Factory.


Shout has also recently released the complete “Beetlejuice,” the 1989-1991 animated adaptation of the 1988 Tim Burton cult classic film. The TV show rejiggers the dynamic of the movie to make Beetlejuice (voiced here by Stephen Ouimette) the best friend of Lydia (Alyson Court) and not the broad antagonist of Burton’s film and adds all sorts of extra characters like Beetlejuice’s rival “The Monster Across The Street” and the Monster’s dog “Poopsie.” It’s all a little silly but fun and, while Shout’s release doesn’t contain any extras, it does pull the entire series together in one package, with a good video transfer and quality packaging. It’s an Amazon Exclusive and can be purchased here.

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