Kyla Pratt is Louder and Prouder than Ever to be Penny Proud
At the start of the new millennium, Disney Channel had a show that was so cool that its theme song was by Destiny’s Child and Solange Knowles. Twenty years later, there is good reason that The Proud Family has returned for its reboot Louder and Prouder— just ask Kyla Pratt. Ahead of the series’ premiere, she opened up to LA Confidential about watching the show with her kids, what we can look forward to from Louder and Prouder and why only she can ever play Penny Proud.
The Proud Family was not just a standout on Disney Channel, but across kids’ television. Why do you think the original series resonated so well with kids?
I think that we made a show that represented so many different kinds of people and so many situations that people could either relate to or they would want to be involved in in some way. Everyone as a teenager had parents that are not listening to them or don't want them to do things that they want to do or hang out with their friends. You always have a group of friends and someone you feel like is a low-key hater. Or you have a Sugar Mama who is crazy, but has your back or an uncle like Uncle Bobby, who you love very much, but sometimes you don't want to claim. I just feel like we made a show that people can relate to and they can see themselves in some way. And I think that's why people fell in love with it.
What was your initial reaction to bringing The Proud Family back?
I got a phone call from Bruce Smith and Ralph Farquhar and they said, “Hey, we're thinking about rebooting The Proud Family and are you interested?” I pause and I'm like, “What kind of a question is that? Who else is gonna play Penny Proud? Don't play with me.” There are a lot of beautiful and talented young women out there, but nobody can be Penny.
We were going to record together and right after that, the pandemic happened to all of us and we had to record from home. They sent us a bunch of equipment to set up in our houses. It was crazy because my kids were home. My whole family was home. And so my kids are loud, just like their mother.
But I was so excited. I tell people like every other day of my life since filming the original, people have always come up to me mad that The Proud Family is no longer on and trying to understand why did I take it off and seem very upset with me. And I’m like, “Guys, I didn't do this.”
So I know that there's so many people who are going to be so excited and are so excited for this rebooted, updated version. I love it mainly because we still have the essence of the original Proud Family, but we've updated it so much to really go with the times of now and the conversations of now. We don't shy away from any topic, and that's what I loved about us originally, and we're not doing that this time as well.
Why do you think now, 15 years later, is the right time to dive back into Penny's story?
I think now's the right time because times are so different than 20 years ago. We have social media. We have things that are not taboo to talk about now, like social injustice and change that needs to happen. We have so many topics that need to be addressed and I love when they can be addressed in this way. And that's what's great about our writers and our creator and director. Animation is such a great form to get messages out there that need to be heard.
We've added new characters to our cast, we have EJ Johnson, who's playing the new Michael Collins. We have Keke Palmer who is playing Maya, our social activist on the show and we have characters that have same sex parents. There's so many things going on in the world that it wasn't as easy to talk about 20 years ago, and now for us to be able to add even more representation to our show is just an amazing feeling.
That's always been important to me because as a little Black girl growing up, I didn't know that I didn't see an animated cartoon that looked like me. I didn't even realize how much it was helping me as a young woman just playing Penny Proud. I think I didn't realize what it was because it just was so relatable to me. It was like, “Oh, this is a show about a family and a young girl who wants to hang out with her friends.” It just felt like it's a great show, but I didn't realize that that wasn't out there. I feel like Louder and Prouder is going to give more representation in so many ways for people who haven't always felt seen just like we felt back then. I think it's important to be able to watch something on TV and either see someone who looks like you or acts like you or has the same energy as you or are going through the same things as you and helps you feel like you're not alone.
I saw one of your daughters was once Penny for Halloween. Do you plan to watch Louder and Prouder with your kids?
Oh, absolutely. They're probably going to have it on before I even get home from work. I played the movie for them years ago just because I wanted to see if they could recognize my voice. I was like, “Let me see,” and they did. They were really young, so that was really exciting for me. Disney Plus put up the episodes not too long ago. They binge watched those. They loved them so much. And then when the trailer of the new Proud Family came out, my youngest daughter watched it literally 100 times. I was like, “Can I not hear myself for a couple minutes?” But they're super, super excited and I'm excited for them to see and for them to have a show like this.
What do you enjoy most about doing voiceover work?
Literally my favorite part is to not have to do hair and makeup and just be comfortable and chilling. No, but I also love being able to bring a character to life with just my voice. I feel like it helped me so much as a kid to just focus on doing that and not worrying about what I looked like all the time or posing or always trying to make things cute. It's like, “No, you need to get done what needs to get done to become this character,” and I believe that helped me on the other side of the screen as well.
You were filming for Call me Kat at the same time as Louder and Prouder. How was it balancing that?
It was intense… People don't realize how much energy it takes into bringing a character to life through your voice and how much yelling and screaming and singing and sometimes you do more than one episode in a day. It was a lot, but it was nothing that I'm not used to. 20 years ago, when the original Proud Family came out, I was filming One on One at the same time. So for me, I've always loved working. I love what I do. It's one of my favorite things to do and when I'm not working, it's like wait, wait, wait, I want to work. And next thing, whenever I am working, when it rains it pours, I'm always busy, busy, busy. I'm used to it, I love it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.