If one were to make a list of Black cartoons -- shows, not movies, one-off specials, or specific characters -- it wouldn’t be a very long one. What it would be is a pretty even three-way split between modern classics, like The Boondocks; more old school stuff, like Fat Albert, and mid-to-late 90's joints like Static Shock. Only one cartoon franchise to date has managed to stand out in two of those three categories: The Proud Family, rebooted last year as The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.
The original Proud Family began to bless the airwaves back in 2001. Its current iteration, Louder and Prouder, debuted its first season in February 2022, and actually just released its second season earlier this month. Both shows are available in full on Disney+.
Am I too old for them? Nah! Created by Ralph Farquhar and Bruce W. Smith, and based on the original series created by Smith and Doreen Spicer, Louder and Prouder continues the adventures of the Prouds, an upper middle class Black family that lives in the fictional town of Emilyville, formerly known as Smithville (we'll get to that). The new version of the show still acknowledges the canon that the old show set up, while also mostly skipping right over the whole "none of us have aged in 20 years" part of it all.
At the center of it all is Penny Proud, a fourteen year-old student, and her friends Dijonay Jones, LaCienaga Boulevardez, Zoey Howser, Michael Collins, Maya Leibowitz-Jenkins, Sticky Webb and Kareem Abdul-Jabar Brown, most of whom are voiced by Black actors who are kind of legendary in their own rights.
The entire voice cast of the original series was brought back to reprise their roles, with the exceptions of Tara Strong, who voiced various characters, and Orlando Brown, who played Sticky. Penny is given voice by Kyla Pratt, who basically was in or made an appearance on damn near every major Black series of my youth, including Sister Sister, Family Matters, The Parent 'Hood, The Parkers and Moesha. She was even Maya Dolittle in Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Dolittle film franchise. Karen Malina White, who plays Dijonay, was Nicolette on the 90's classic Malcolm & Eddie. Michael is played by E.J. Johnson of Rich Kids of Beverly Hills fame, Maya is played by Keke Palmer of Nope, and Kareem, Penny's boo, is played by Asante Blackk from Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us. Additionally, LaCienega is played by All That alum Alisa Reyes, and Soleil Moon Frye, who plays Zoey, literally is beloved '80s icon Punky Brewster.
I could go on for days about all the notable Black and Latino talent on this series, but for now I limit my last couple of mentions to Penny's dad, Oscar, played by Tommy Davidson (In Living Color); his mother, Sugar Mama, played by Jo Marie Payton (Family Matters), and LaCienaga's dad, Felix, played by Carlos Mencia.
The presence of this diverse group of actors/performers makes sense, especially when one considers the style of both iterations of The Proud Family, which draws heavy inspiration from Nineties-era Black family sitcoms, some of which a number of the actors are actually from. Moesha's influence is felt strongly at times, but never more so than the third episode of Louder and Prouder's second season, Curved. That episode follows Moesha's bookending monologues set to R&B-style and matched it so faithfully that it could only have been a respectful homage. Another link to Moesha, and The Parkers as well, is Dijonay's personality and overall vibe, which I believe is fully based on Countess Vaughn's character from both shows, Kim Parker.
Also like those Nineties shows, while not every single episode contains a black-ish style history lesson, every once in a while a culturally appropriate point is made. Take, for instance, the aforementioned season two episode, Curved, which was recently in the media because of some strong reactions it was getting from a few people via social media. In the episode, Penny and the gang take part in the school debate team state semifinals. In response to the prompt, "Reparations," their team does a chant about how "Slaves built this country."
At one point, the chant gets a little too specific for some people's liking: "We made your families rich, from southern plantation owners, to the northern bankers, to the New England ship owners, the Founding Fathers, former presidents, [and] current senators." While the squawking on social media was in part instigated by these condemnations of somewhat traditionally revered targets, the real show of white fragility masked in outrage was prompted by the notion that African Americans are owed reparations, and the supportive stance that Louder and Prouder seemed to take behind it.
Later, in the episode Juneteenth, the name of Smithville is changed to Emilyville, in honor of the enslaved person whose diary (and ghost) exposed the truth about the fictional town's slave-owning founders.
Episodes ofLouder and Prouder cover a lot of new and modern bases in its present-day form, and especially in this new season. The End of Innocence shows what happens when a famous boy of color appears to only date white girls. (This was one of the only episodes that I felt had some weird messaging, but I digress.) There's an episode called BeBe that deals with how people of color react to mental health news when The Prouds find out Penny's baby brother BeBe is on the autism spectrum. And who can forget season one's Father Figures, which dealt with the homophobia that is sometimes innately present in the Black community. This all occurs when Penny and Dijonay learn that their friend, Maya, has two dads, Barry (Zachary Quinto) and Randall (Billy Porter).
Refreshingly enough, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder has proven to be one of those shows that has managed to remain relevant to the culture without becoming preachy or having to turn every episode into a lesson. It's also as diverse as humanly possible, featuring characters and stories that span genders, sexual orientations and multiple ethnicities. The differences between this soft reboot and the original from which it sprang are minor, really -- updated visuals, a slightly remixed theme song, minor character changes -- but the spirit of this show, and its ability to be both wacky and authentic and still feel like a warm hug from Momma Nineties -- remains the same.
The unreasonably long list of Black celebrity cameos -- which includes such names as Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Tone Loc -- doesn't hurt either.
The Proud Family and The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder are available on Disney+.
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