21 years after its debut, The Proud Family is a milestone
When The Proud Family premiered on Disney Channel in 2001, it was not only the first original animated show on the channel, but one of the few all-ages animation programs on television at the time centered around a Black family. The show followed 14-year-old Penny Proud and her chaotic, but loving family and ran for five years before ending in 2005 with a TV movie.
The sequel series, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, is now heading to Disney Plus later this month 21 years later with the same characters back again. Unfortunately, frustratingly little has changed about the grander TV landscape in the show’s absence.
“We’re both proud and disappointed at the same time,” says Ralph Farquhar, executive producer of the original series and one of the creators on the revival. “Proud that we got a chance to be the first, disappointing that we remain the only [show]. That’s why it’s important to do this show. We want there to be more Proud Families on. There’s not just one view of Blackness or a Black family. We would like to see a lot of different families portrayed.”
There were animated shows centered on Black protagonists before The Proud Family and there are certainly animated shows that followed. But in the vast expanse of American animation, there are still more shows about talking animals than there are about Black families, and still more genre series about white heroes than Black ones. Shows like Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Craig of the Creek, and the upcoming Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur — which all feature Black characters as central protagonists — signal an expansion. They all represent a new step for diversity, stepping into new genres. That’s exactly what the Proud Family creators want to see happen.
“We’re good with being trailblazers. If we’re blazing a path for ourselves to continue to kind of explore this animated sphere, with projects that delve in lots of different genres that we seem to be excluded from,” says creator Bruce Wayne Smith.
And The Proud Family still occupies a unique space in TV. While an all-ages animated show, it was not specifically designed for small children like Little Bill or Doc McStuffins. And while a sitcom, it was not explicitly for adult audiences like The Cleveland Show.
Louder and Prouder keeps that sitcom sensibility, but elevates the animation style through lighting and textures — something Smith really wanted to do in order to make the show stand out not just with its sharp script, but also with its visuals. In addition to adding more in-depth lighting and shading, that involved revamping the character designs to make them more expressive and nuanced in order to really bolster the script.
“I’ve seen really funny episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy and stuff, and no offense — my taste from a visual standpoint is I don’t like the crude elements that follow an animated sitcom,” he explains. “It seems like that’s the rule with animated sitcoms that you have really great writing, with sometimes crude visuals.”
He hopes it’s just the start of something in the animation space. “I’ve never seen a Black animated horror show or film,” Smith says. “I’ve never seen a Black animated Western. I’ve never seen us Black people in outer space from an animation standpoint. There’s so many places to go in this medium.”
“But you will see all of those in Proud Family,” laughs Farquahr.
The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder premieres on Disney Plus on Feb. 23.