20 years after it first ran on Disney Channel, Bruce W. Smith’s acclaimed animated series ‘The Proud Family’ gets a reboot, premiering today on Disney+.
A little more than 20 years ago, The Proud Family, an animated series about 14-year-old Penny Proud and her loving, but sometimes challenging family, launched on the Disney Channel. Created by Bruce W. Smith and starring Kyla Pratt as Penny, the popular series ran for two seasons over four years, racking up a number of nominations and awards, including a BET Comedy Award in 2004 for Outstanding Animated Series. In 2021, Smith, who also co-directed the 2019 Oscar-winning animated short Hair Love, received the Winsor McCay Award for career contributions to the art of animation at the 48th Annie Awards.
Now, Smith and Proud Family executive producer Ralph Farquhar – who both signed wide-ranging, multiyear deals with Disney in 2020 – have brought back the beloved characters and most of the original cast in the all-new series revival The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, premiering today on Disney+.
Updated for the 2020s, but featuring characters who are the same age as the originals, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder once again follows the adventures and misadventures of teenaged Penny Proud and her family as they navigate modern life. There are new career highs for mom Trudy (Paula Jai Parker), wilder dreams for dad Oscar (Tommy Davidson), and new challenges for Penny – from a socially woke neighbor who thinks she has a lot to teach her, to bullying social media influencers who want to cancel her. Not to mention the always fun machinations of her own teenage hormones.
Other returning characters include Penny's friends Dijonay (Karen Malina White), LaCienega (Alisa Reyes), Zoey (Soleil Moon Frye) and Michael (E.J. Johnson, taking over for Phil LaMarr); Uncle Bobby (Cedric the Entertainer); and Penny’s Suga Mama (JoMarie Payton), ready as ever to dispense tough love or a gentle hand whenever Penny needs it. Among the newcomers are Maya (Keke Palmer) and KG (Artist “A Boogie” Dubose), who not only have to deal with the struggles of being the new kids, but also the fact that they have two dads (Billy Porter and Zachary Quinto), a first for Smithville.
Asked about his goals in reviving the series and revisiting the characters, Smith says that the timing was just right – and, in a way, it was also inevitable.
“We felt we never really left the place, you know what I mean?” he shares. “Ralph and I both knew that we had some unfinished business and it seemed like the perfect time. With everything that's evolved over the past 20 years, we knew that the characters could just drop right in the zeitgeist.”
“We never understood why we stopped,” Farquhar confirms. “Bruce and I were pitching every year – ‘let's do Proud Family.’ We wanted to do it live. ‘Let's do animation mixed with live.’ I mean we came up with every oddball concept to continue this, and then, one day, Disney called us and said, ‘Hey, you want to do The Proud Family?’”
Not surprisingly, the cast was also pretty delighted to be reprising their roles, not least Kyla Pratt, who, despite no longer being the same age as Penny – and now having two little girls of her own – claims she had no problem finding the character again.
“It wasn't hard to find Penny because I just feel like she was that girl that everybody could relate to, you know?” she says, laughing. “She said what she wanted to say, and she loved her family and tried to find a balance… You know, generations change, but I see myself all over again in my girls, and ultimately we’re pretty much the same. When Disney+ put us on their app, my kids started watching it, and my eight-year-old played the first little snippet like 100 times. It's just exciting to know that something like this, something of some substance, something that we all can relate to – it’s wonderful that my babies get to witness this newer version of it.”
As for Cedric the Entertainer, playing Uncle Bobby again was totally cool, as long as certain boundaries were respected.
“It's always great in all families to play that one crazy uncle, the one that's beloved and, you know, the one that's the wildest,” he enthuses. “And so that's what I loved about Uncle Bobby from the very beginning. I was very sure. As long as Bobby still got his perm, I'll do it. If that's gonna change, if we got to bring him forward with some new modern haircut, I'm gonna have to decline.”
Beyond hairstyles, however, there were some elements that the two executive producers knew would be the same, and others that they knew they wanted to update.
“In terms of storytelling, it's still the same,” says Farquhar. “We tell our truth as Black families, Black parents, Black children, and that's the driving force behind the vision for the show. But things do change. I think the Michael Collins character is a classic example. Back in the day, we really couldn't lean into the LGBTQ dynamic, but now we're going straight at it. In addition to E.J. Johnson, we have Zachary Quinto and Billy Porter as same-sex parents. And there's a ton of other things. You know, social media didn't really exist back then. Now, it plays a big factor in the show. And we're dealing straight on with race – colorism, reparations. We go deep.”
And, Farquhar adds, in addition to dealing straightforwardly with racial issues and working with a largely Black cast, they were also able to diversify the talent behind the scenes.
“One of the things we were able to do this time straight out the gate,” he says, “was make sure we hire Black and Brown artists, Black and Brown writers. And we really increased the female point of view in the show because, try as we might, Bruce and I just can't draw upon our teenage girl experience to make it happen. We got a bunch of new writers I don’t think were born when we did the first one.”
Adds Smith, “We hired a lot of fans to come work on the show. People who were really fans of the show the first time around jumped onboard and really helped us make the show that we made.”