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Say It Loud, Say It Proud
'The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder' debuts on Disney Plus.
Now Streaming: Upon its launch on November 12, 2019, Disney Plus quickly became a major player in the streaming wars, reaching nearly 130 million subscribers by the end of 2021, as reported by Deadline. What about today?
A couple weeks ago, The Hollywood Reporter (THR) published an article about the streaming service "growing up," though it could easily have been headlined 'growing pains.' Here's why:
“The biggest opportunity though in terms of significance is with general entertainment being added to the service,“ [Disney CEO Bob] Chapek said on the company’s earnings call, adding that there “will be a trend of us taking more general entertainment and moving it over to Disney+,” whether from ABC, Hulu or elsewhere.
THR noted that the service has been adding adult-leaning sitcoms, like The Wonder Years, Grown-ish, and Black-ish, ABC shows that have already been available for next-day viewing on Hulu, as well as other televisions shows and movies that may appeal more to the "more than 50 percent of Disney+ subscribers not having kids, per Chapek." A recent check on the full-page advertisement that non-subscribers see when visiting DisneyPlus.com even puts the Disney logo in the center, sandwiched between Hulu and ESPN+, with a button to click to get the Disney Bundle, which offers all three services together.
The corporate idea appears to be that Disney already has the market for family programming cornered, so now it's time to keep growing by expanding upon what's available, even beyond the adult-leaning fare that's been available since Day One of the streaming service, especially via the Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic primary menu buttons on the subscribers' main page of the Disney Plus service. Recent changes at the top of the Disney corporate ranks may be responsible for this thinking, but whoever is responsible, it can't help but remind of 1984, when Disney was struggling as a movie studio, and found success by creating Touchstone Pictures, featuring more "mature" themes.
As I commented upon more extensively in October 2021, Disney Plus has clearly been targeting adults who may or may not have children of their own for some time now. Their recent announcement that they will be adding more "general entertainment" to the service only reinforces that notion; it's just more obvious now.
This week's big new Disney Plus title is The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, a fitting title for a series that is, indeed, louder than its original inspiration.
Created by Bruce W. Smith, whose career at Walt Disney Studios as an animator began on Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), the original series was the first animated Disney Channel Original Series. First broadcast in 2001, and eventually running to 52 episodes over two seasons, plus a full-length movie, the series is led by 14-year-old Penny Proud, and follows her adventures with her close group of friends and her family, featuring both parents, a grandmother, and her two infant twin siblings.
Like most family programming of that era, the original series flew completely under my radar -- I didn't have cable at the time, anyway -- but a recent sampling of the series' first three episodes, all available on Disney Plus, was entirely enjoyable. The show made me laugh from its relatable antics and general air of goofiness. Its character designs fit each individual, and its backgrounds, which aim for a more abstract, if not exactly impressionistic, layer of recognizable shapes, houses, vehicles. It's somewhat of a light fantasy world, but one that I'm sure I could have related to as a young teenager.
The first two episodes are now streaming, and they're much more 'in your face.' As the series title suggests, the character designs and backgrounds are definitely LOUDER, practically screaming for attention from the get-go, and, even as a neophyte, I noticed a couple of changes in the characters right away; for example, The Gross Sisters, formerly neighborhood bullies constantly demanding money, have been transformed into budding rappers who are constantly demanding attention.
Animated to stand out in a now-crowded streaming space, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder certainly should stand out, as much as anything for bringing back a proud African-American family that has two happy parents, on equal(or greater) financial standing with any animated family on Disney Plus. The jokes and visual puns have not landed quite so well for me, but it's early times for the series, and I'm sure my own aging sensibilities have something to do with that.
Or, maybe I'm just missing, as in 'not understanding' the jokes. The second episode, for example, covers the pernicious aspect of social-media influencers by seeing what happens when Penny becomes one, by accident, and then quickly transforms into a monster of a young woman. Certainly, the topic is relevant to the show's audience, yet the message is quite heavy-handed, for all the ingenuity and creativity of the animation.
For now, I've added the show to my watchlist, with the hope that the showmakers will display a lighter touch in the future. [Disney Plus]