I know that this month has been designated for the special theme known as “Black History Month”, but I have to be honest with you. For this week, we’re not exactly going back in time that many years. We’re only going back to the time period known as September 2001 for this week’s look back on Saturday Mornings.
I probably already explained this last weekend, but when it came down to choosing topics of discussion for Black History Month, I found Saturdays to be the toughest day. As I explained, there weren’t a whole lot of cartoons or Saturday morning programming for me to choose from that celebrated black history, so I had to get very creative when it came to selecting topics.
As you know, last week, I did a spotlight on “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”, and in that spotlight, I briefly talked about how a live-action movie based on the cartoon series was released in 2004. That live-action film starred Kenan Thompson in the title role of Fat Albert, and a young actress named Kyla Pratt.
At the time, Kyla was just seventeen years old. But what many people didn’t realize was that this movie was not her first experience with working in the film and television industry. She got her first acting gig singing and dancing alongside that “lovable” purple dinosaur, Barney, when she was just eight years old. From there, she made guest appearances in several television sitcoms including “Smart Guy”, “Sister, Sister”, “Family Matters”, “Moesha”, and “Lizzie McGuire”.
By 2001, when Pratt was in her early teens, she won two roles in two different television series. The first one was on the television series “One on One”, which ran on now defunct UPN between 2001 and 2006.
And the second series is the subject of today’s blog...and in this series, Kyla took on the role of a precocious, “animated” girl.
The name of the role she played was Penny Proud, and the television series was the animated Disney show “The Proud Family”, a television series which aired simultaneously on The Disney Channel, and during ABC’s “One Saturday Morning” block between September 15, 2001 and September 1, 2005.
The reasons why I chose this show as the spotlight for today are as follows. First of all, the majority of the characters in the cartoon are African-American. Secondly, almost all of the main voice actors doing the voices for the cartoon are African-American.
TRIVIA: And, for that matter, so are the artists who sing the theme song. The song is performed by Solange Knowles...and her sister Beyonce did the background vocals along with her Destiny’s Child bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.
And lastly, the creator of the series is African-American. And his story is one that is worth telling before we get into the real story of “The Proud Family”.
“The Proud Family” was created by animator Bruce W. Smith, who studied animation at the California Institute of the Arts, graduating from the program in the early 1980s. He got his first animation gig in 1984, when he became an assistant to Bill Melendez in the television special “Garfield Sleeps Rough”. At the time, Smith was one of only a handful of black animators in the industry. Four years after working on “Garfield Sleeps Rough”, Smith was brought onto the animation team behind 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, and then four years after that, Smith worked on his very first animated feature film, “Bebe’s Kids”.
Throughout the 1990s, Bruce’s career continued to grow thanks to the various jobs he worked on. He supervised the animation sequences in 1994’s “The Page Master”, designed the characters in “A Goofy Movie”, and co-directed the animation that was present in the movie “Space Jam”.
In 1998, Bruce W. Smith moved on to Walt Disney Feature Animation, where he served as supervising animator in such Disney animated features such as “Tarzan”, “The Emperor’s New Groove”, “Home on the Range”, and “The Princess and the Frog”.
During this time, Smith was putting the finishing touches on a new animated series that he was working on, entitled “The Proud Family”. Interestingly enough, he was creating the show for the Nickelodeon network, hoping that the show was strong enough for airplay. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon passed on the show. Luckily for Smith, he had his foot in the door of Disney, and Disney picked up the show, placing it on their schedule for the 2001/2002 season.
At the time, “The Proud Family” was unique in that it was one of the first Disney animated television series that did NOT premiere on network television (the show started airing on ABC after it debuted on the Disney Channel), and that it was also the first animated Disney show that received the title of “Disney Channel Original”.
The show revolved around the life of teenager Penny Proud (voiced by Pratt). In many ways, she is your typical teenager who loves hanging out with her friends, singing, and like most teenagers, gets embarrassed by their parents...especially her father. Deep down inside, she loves her family with all of her heart...even if they drive her crazy a lot of the time.
And, believe me...if you had a family like Penny Proud, you’d probably understand her a lot more.
Let’s see...there’s Penny’s father, Oscar (Tommy Davidson), who is more or less an emotional basketcase when it comes to raising a teenage girl. Overprotective, immature, and even a little bit juvenile, Oscar more often than not is the butt of all jokes. Sure enough, on the series, he comes across as a bit of a lovable oaf. His job title is that of snack food entrepreneur, but unfortunately, his ideas for snacks are bland and leave a bad taste in the mouths of consumers everywhere. All that aside though, he may seem goofy, but he does have his moments of brilliance and his intentions are always well-meaning. Then again, you know what they say about the road to good intentions...
Penny’s mother, Trudy (Paula Jai Parker) is a little bit more level-headed than her husband Oscar...no, scratch that. Trudy is one hundred per cent more level-headed than Oscar. She serves as the voice of reason within the family. She has a good job working as a veterinarian, and she comes from a background of professionals...a stark contrast from Oscar’s life and times. But, opposites tend to attract, right?
Penny isn’t the only child in the Proud Family household. She also has two younger baby siblings. They are twins BeBe and CeCe (both voiced by Tara Strong). They are named after the gospel duo BeBe and CeCe Winans. They’re only a year old, so neither one of them say very much in the way of words that are actual English, but we do know that they love their big sister very much...even if they are a little bit rough on her.
TRIVIA: Tara Strong also voices Puff the Dog.
And, then there’s the colourful character known as “Sugar Mama Proud”, who is voiced by former “Family Matters” star, Jo Marie Payton.
Sugar Mama is a character that really needs her own description because she is a character in her own right. Nobody really knows how old she is...not that it’s anybody’s business, as a real lady is never supposed to reveal her age, right? And, although she is the mother of Oscar Proud, you’d never know it. Sugar Mama often takes great pleasure in insulting, humiliating, and in some cases, even inflicting physical pain on her adult son! Though, I don’t believe that she does it maliciously. Deep down inside, I think that Sugar Mama loves her baby...she just has a really short fuse for stupidity and people who lack common sense, and well, Oscar seems to boast both of those qualities in spades.
But then in some cases, the apple doesn’t exactly fall far from the tree. Although Sugar Mama developed a romantic relationship with Papi Boulevardez, she isn’t aware that because Papi can only speak Spanish, he’s actually disguising his insults as words of affection towards the Spanish-illiterate Sugar Mama.
(Though, I’ll be the first to admit that Papi is probably one of the funniest characters on the whole cartoon because of that fact alone.)
And, of course, we can’t forget about Penny’s friends. (who conveniently ditch her whenever she gets into a jam...I suppose we should then call them fair-weather friends, huh?)
There is LaCienega Boulevarde (Alisa Reyes), which admittedly is a play on words in regards to a famous street in Los Angeles. LaCienega is sometimes a friend to Penny, but sometimes an enemy. I guess the word we would use to describe her is a frenemy. She can turn on the charm like a light switch though, convincing adults and authority figures that she’s as sweet as cherry pie, but making her peers feel like they’re beneath her. But, don’t let anyone know that she’s really a softy who respects Penny. Her reputation’s at stake, you know.
There’s also Zoey (Soleil Moon Frye), a nerdy girl who often feels insecure about everything, Dijonay (Karen Malina White), a caring, enthusiastic friend whose penchant for gossip has gotten Penny into hot water more than once. And, there’s Sticky (Orlando Brown), the only boy in the group. He can work wonders with technology, and can find a way to hack into every school system, but seems to be caught in the middle of a rather weird love triangle involving Penny and Dijonay.
There are also some minor characters which make appearances on the show, including Wizard Kelly (Aries Spears), Oscar’s brother Bobby (Cedric the Entertainer), and Peabo (Cree Summer), the Proud’s nine-year-old neighbour.
Oh, and don’t forget about the number of guest stars who have made an appearance either as themselves or a guest character. The following celebrities who have been featured in “The Proud Family” are Mariah Carey, Al Roker, Samuel L. Jackson, Vivica A. Fox, Raven-Symone, Steve Harvey, Vanessa L. Williams, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Shia LeBeouf, Robert Guillaume, Mos Def, Cicely Tyson, Anthony Anderson, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Ving Rhames, Lou Rawls, and Frank Welker.
So, to close off this look back on “The Proud Family”, why not watch an episode? After all, it hasn’t aired on the Disney Channel since 2011...it may jog some of your memories!