bruce w. smith

BRUCE W.SMITH

(born 1961 in Los Angeles, California) is an American character animator, film director, and television producer.

One of the few Black animators working in the industry, Smith got his start as an assistant animator for Bill Meléndez’s 1984Garfield television special Garfield in the Rough. He went on to animate for Baer Animation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and in 1992 directed his first feature, Bébé’s Kids.

In 2000 when he still worked for Hyperion Pictures, he piloted his series The Proud Family to Nickelodeon, who passed on it. Disney Channel eventually picked the series up the following year and ran it until 2005. The series was the first to be produced by his production company Jambalaya Studios.

Best known for: THE PROUD FAMILY, BEBE’S KIDS, HAPPILY EVER AFTER: FAIRY TALES FOR EVERY CHILD

Bruce William Smith is a man who certainly has left his mark on the American animation industry. He’s done it all; he’s written, produced, directed, animated, designed characters, supervised animation, and done visual design. Not only that but he’s seriously worked with them all to; Disney, Warner Bros, Don Bluth, Fox, Hyperion Pictures, and more.

He was quite a prominant figure during Black Animation Month, having a hand in the 3 features I mentioned above and more. He was a character designer and creative consultant on the criminally underlooked C-Bear & Jamal, and was a  co-creator of Da Boom Crew…

Ohh… moving swiftly on.

He’s no one trick pony is what I’m trying to say, have I made that quite clear and obvious? He’s played a pivotal role in being apart of some of our most cherished childhood classics, and even some of the ones we’ve vaguely but fondly remember.

The way I could describe his animating and drawing style, if I could put it into words, it isn’t quite as cartoony as others. If you look at some of the characters he was in charge of animating like Dr. Facilier from Princess and the Frog, Pacha from The Emperor’s New Groove, Kerchak from Tarzan, and Piglet from Winnie the Pooh (2011) you’ll see what I’m getting at. That isn’t to say he can’t do a cartoony style with lots of bounce and silliness but his characters just kind of have this slower paced flow to them. I want to say they have more realistic movement with their bodies and actions.

The same even applies to anthropomorphic characters like the animals in Cats Don’t Dance, the Looney Tunes in Space Jam, and the characters in Rock-a-Doodle. Sure they’re not humans and therefore, with animation you have the liberties to make them really wacky and off the wall but Bruce still makes them move and interact with the world like a real person would. Sure, for something like Space Jam, it didn’t work because those characters are designed for crazy animation but other places he does really well. 

He’s one of few animators I know that can have slow-paced animation that still has character behind it. It can show a very down-to-earth homeliness of someone like Pacha, power and intimidation like Kerchak, or mystery and maliciousness like Dr. Facilier. It’s one of the things that made his most famous creation, The Proud Family work so well. People fondly remember that show for how it created such a real world, and fairly real characters with issues of school, family, and such that the audience could relate to. I know that has more to do with the writing but his style of animation helped make a world of people that felt real.

That’s why I’m happy to make Bruce W. Smith the very first feature of Creator Corner. Thank you again sir, for helping making Black Animation Month so special and for helping animate the masterpieces of our youths.

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Today’s black history month post is about Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, a television series that had its original run from 1995-2000. The show was made for HBO Network, airing on their family channel alongside programs like Crashbox and A Little Curious.

Happily Ever After was a series aimed at retelling classic children’s tales like Jack and the Beanstalk, Pinocchio, Rumplestiltskin, Robin Hood, etc with different cultural twists on them. This often involved settings in places like Taipei, Mexico, Africa, Jamaica, the American Southwest (for Native American characters), and Japan. The series was notable for its abundant portrayal of characters of color.

The show was directed by Bruce W. Smith (you guys should be familiar with him by now), the man behind The Proud Family and the director of the film Bebe’s Kids. There is an artistic similarity between all three works to some degree or another. 

The re-tellings were very unique, and included examples like: Robinita Hood, the tale of Robin Hood where the vigilante hero is a Latina woman, Goldilocks (with golden locs) and the three bears retold in the Caribbean, an inuit retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” and more.

The stories often not only fleshed out diverse cultures with everything from the West Indies to Korea, but there was a notable focus on women in many episodes. Stories often took roles traditionally given to males and portrayed the heroes as women in the re-tellings. There were often messages of empowerment found within these.

The show was also known for its many celebrity voices. Just about every episode had several guest stars. Some guests include, but are not limited to: Harry Belafonte, Tyra Banks, James Earl Jones, Will Smith, Chris Rock, Salt-n-Pepa, David Allen Grier, Raven-Symone, Denzel Washington, Dionne Warwick, Cree Summer, and Vanessa Williams. 

While the show did finish its initial run 15 years ago, it has been running on the HBO Family Network ever since. There are only 39 episodes, so one could jump in any time and get through the whole series.

Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child currently airs every morning on HBO Family from 7:30 to 9:00 AM. The show is also available on HBO on Demand.

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Bruce W. Smith was one of my biggest, modern animation heroes as a kid and I didn’t even know it. I noticed his magic first, seeing his directorial debut, Bebe’s Kids. Next he switched it up as Animation Director of the classic feature, Space Jam. His work as Supervising Animator of Kerchack from Disney’s Tarzan. Then later, Pacha, from The Emperor’s New Groove. Finally, he left his mark on me with TV animation when he created The Proud Family. He came back to the fold to display his signature flair as Supervising Animator of Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog. 

One of the great, 2D animators of color in feature and TV played huge role in my belief of carrying the tradition of high quality & professional representation in the animation medium. :-)

A Black History Joint

Had to pick a picture for class that describes Black History Month, but I decided to draw mine. There are quite a few black animated series, but there are three more predominant, more respected series that are always thought of: Fat Albert, The Proud Family and The Boondocks. With stuff like Static Shock or Class of 3000 being second thoughts, of course.


These shows ran for a good amount of years, shaped generations and gave a positive view on African Americans, whether it’d be Fat Albert’s fantastic morals about friendship and life, Penny Proud’s energy and ambition to try to do more or Huey Freeman’s reflection and self-loathing commentary on how our culture is as a whole.

So, yeah. I think, during this month, all animation fans should just appreciate what these shows have to offer. Being well-written, well-handled and just all around memorable, my black history heroes are Bill Cosby, Bruce W. Smith and Aaron McGruder.
Great work, guys!

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THE PROUD FAMILY (2001)

An American animated television sitcom that ran on the Disney Channel from September 21, 2001 to August 19, 2005. In 2011, reruns of The Proud Family were shown on the channel Centric.

Created by Bruce W. Smith and was produced by Jambalaya Studios. Originally piloted for Nickelodeon, it was eventually picked up by the Disney Channel and started airing in September 2001. Many of the later episodes of The Proud Family were produced using Adobe Flash.

The series is the first Disney children’s cartoon which did not premiere on network/over-the-air television, which had been done since 1984 when the Television Animation unit was started. It marked the first animated Disney Channel Original Series, and, incidentally, the only original animated series from Disney Channel not associated with, and to be produced exclusively by Disney’s Television Animation arm.

Why was it special?: IT’S ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECES OF BLACK ANIMATION IN THE WORLD.

Friends, followers, casual observers you’ve read this whole thing correctly; Disney’s The Proud Family might just be one of, if not THE most important black animated cartoon in the world.

You know what, for this post, because I lack the articulateness to truly express why and because I’m not in the demographic for this show at all, I am going to turn the platform completely over to someone else. We’re going to hear from someone who’s not only more qualified but can tell us everything and anything we need to know about this show and what makes it so great.

Ash, honey, lay it on us, what makes The Proud Family so special?


A much needed symbol of early 00s black excellence , that’s what The Proud Family was made of.

Disney didn’t provide much black visibility in the princess line up or the overall Disney Renassiance in the 90s and even onward , although they had high profile black celebrities in their voice casts ( James Earl Jones , Eddie Murphy , Eartha Kitt , Tevin Campbell  ) you couldn’t match the skin color to the actor unfortunately .

Black characters would pop up occasionally on the television shows that didn’t include anthropomorphic characters such as Disney’s Recess , Pepper Ann , and The Weekenders .

The Proud Family was truly a joy and breath of fresh air giving young black kids someone they could identify with especially young black women.

Where do I begin ? cast members from prominent black television shows and films such as Family Matters , Friday , In Living Color , and Dr. Dolittle added all of the important spices to this show and theme song provided by Solange Knowles and Destiny’s Child put the cherry on top.

 

A wonderful showcase of diversity on all levels , The Proud Family touched on colorism , self esteem issues , friendship , and even cultural insensitivity which was very important .

The series debuted in 2001 and ended in 2005 but was popular enough to get it’s own Disney Channel Original Movie , an online spin off , and a crossover with the popular Lilo and Stitch series .

This sacred piece of black animation is currently airing reruns on the Centric station , this was important to young black women and even made the arrival of Princess Tiana even more significant.

To my black folks out there , PLEASE put our children on to this series it is so important that they are exposed to this good example of representation and allow this series as well as others that were listed during black animation month to help them find hope and inspiration so that they can go on and do amazing things for our community.


That’s just the big thing; the fact that the folks at Disney put a lot of heart and soul into this, an amount that other cartoons could only wish to have. Not only that but the show dealt with so many issues relevant to its target audience and more could enjoy and take away from it.

Just– you can feel the enthusiasm through my friend’s words, I could sit here and tell you what makes this show so special.  I would even though I’d fumble around about it for a long time but you just need to ask anyone who loved it at the time and they’ll describe it with such insurmountable joy and vigor.

This is one of those must-sees that everyone should check out at least once in their life, without a doubt.

TRIVIA

  • The Proud Family was nominated for and won several awards including Annie Awards, BET Comedy Awards, Image Awards, Kids’ Choice Awards, NAMIC Vision Awards, and Television Critics Association Awards
  • In 2005, The Proud Family Moviepremiered as a DCOM on Disney Channel. The film served as a series finale. Arsenio Hall voices Bobby in the film.
  • n 2002, ABC launched the series as a part of its Saturday morning block, ABC Kids. The series aired in syndication on BET in 2008. It also aired on Toon Disney until February 2009. The Proud Family was also broadcast on The Family Channel inCanada. In 2010, the series began airing on Centric.
  • The Proud Family Shorties is an Online Cartoon spin-off of The Proud Family created by Bruce W. Smith. It follows the adventures of BeBe & CeCe Proud and Puff the dog.
  • The Proud Family visit Hawaii on an episode of Lilo & Stitch: The Series entitled “Spats” in which they stay at Jumba & Pleakley’s Bed Not Breakfast and Suga Mama inadvertently activates an experiment that causes spats.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

You know what my favorite part of the show was? News Anchorman Al Roker who played this all-powerful reality altering genie kind of dude. It was such a weird idea for a character.

I also liked the Holiday episode where the Prouds took in a poor family and celebrated Kwanzaa with them, and the voices of the family included Samuel L. Jackson, Vivica A. Fox, and Raven-Symone. Ain’t that something?

Iron Maiden with Clive Burr (they just got Bruce Dickinson too) in 1982.

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BEBE’S KIDS (1992)

A 1992 American animated comedy film produced by Reginald Hudlin and Hyperion Pictures, directed by Bruce W. Smith, and released on July 31, 1992 by Paramount Pictures.

the film is based upon comedian Robin Harris’ “Bébé’s Kids” stand-up comedy act. It features the voices of Faizon Love (in his film debut), Vanessa Bell Calloway, Marques Houston, Nell Carter, and Tone Lōc. Tom Everett, Rich Little, and Louie Anderson also lend their voices.

Why was it special?: IT WAS THE FIRST ANIMATED MOVIE WITH A PREDOMINANTLY BLACK CAST AND CREW.

Ahh, Bebe’s Kids, what a way to kick off a tribute to Black animation, with the other rite of passage for every smart ass animation blogger/vlogger on the planet. Yeah, everyone has taken a potshot at this movie in some form at some point in their career.

Since this is a month of positivity I’m going to look at the positive points of this movie. At a time when Disney were once again the reigning kings of animated cinema and everybody was either trying to be Disney or do everything in their power to be different in order to stand out against Disney, this movie managed to do its own thing  and be different without being too crazy about it. I like the animation to; there’s a lot of movement and fluidity to it. The movie has a good flow that makes it easy on the eyes.

There’s also plenty of funny lines in the movie to. Everyone involving in the production went to great lengths to capture the energy and quickness of Robin Harris’ stand-up routine and does it in an entertaining way.

With that though, we come to the major problem with this movie that I can imagine probably dissuaded a lot of audiences and critics. That’s the fact that this is a very mean spirited movie. Aside from maybe 1 or 2 characters, just about everyone involved is rude, mean, destructive, or just not very pleasant.

Hell, I don’t have to say much about that because you can find out for yourself in what’s pretty much the most iconic line in the whole movie.

“I’m gonna beat the black offa ya.”

Yes, a threat of violence on a child is the most memorable part of this movie. It kind of ends up painting everyone involved in a very negative light, and the whole movie is kind of like that. There’s threats of violence, actual onscreen violence, and mayhem galore–

I don’t know, Pix, what do you think about Bebe’s Kids?


Bebe’s Kids is polarizing. It was pretty polarizing when it premiered back in 1992, with critics on one side panning it, while audiences, who actually went to see it—which I’m guessing was a lot of black families like mine—actually liking it. And to this day, not much has changed on that stance. 
It’s still basically the Glass Joe for today’s snarky online critics, while some children of the 90’s like me, still love it.
It’s a cult fave to many, but hasn’t really ever cut away from that anchor that keeps it from universally being recognized as a worthy cult fave, like what happened to films like Fight Club or Shaft, where media takes a step back and says “It was ahead of its time, we were just too slow to catch up.” And I’ve never been able to figure out why that is, other than maybe it was a film that black audiences just got, or it was just bad timing.
For me, I remember seeing this film basically because my dad was a big Robin Harris fan who had already heard the stand-up bit this film originated from. And I think that was the case for a lot parents that took their kids to see this film, along with curiosity, since Harris had passed away from a heart attack shortly before it was made.


“Yo mama so dumb, they told her it was chilly outside so she went and got a bowel.”
Bernie became a household name at one point before his death. Beyond black audiences, Robin never got that.
Or would it still be just a nearly forgotten cult fave?
On the outside, Bebe’s Kids might give the impression that it’s simply an easy cash-in on black stereotypes, when really it’s anything but that. Sure it gets absurd. I mean you’ve got Tone “Wild Thing” Loc voicing a baby as if he’s a deep-voiced O.G. Uncle at the family BBQ.
It doesn’t get more ridiculous than that.
But at it’s heart it’s really an animated film about misunderstood children labeled as delinquents, and a guy whose motives go from selfishly trying to hook up with a woman to actually doing something right.
But it’s told in a hilarious but skewed viewpoint from Robin Harris, that some audiences might not get or laugh at. This is a PG-13 film, but Harris was pretty much an 80’s/early 90’s R-Rated black comedian. To me, it would have been like taking a bunch of non-black co-workers to old Def Jam Comedy shows. Some will laugh. Some will be too afraid to laugh. And others will think they need to be offended for black people.
So yeah, Bebe’s Kids is funny to me and lot of other black people, but I could see why others, especially someone who isn’t black, is not going to find some of the jokes funny.
However, if you weren’t laughing during The Dozens scene between Robin and his ex-wife, you have no sense of humor. That’s just plain funny.
Classic.
In a lot of ways, the premise and creation of Bebe’s Kids reminds me of the late Bernie Mac’s show. Heck, much of Mac’s stand-up used to remind me of Harris too. Mac’s show was built from a funny bit from his stand-up act concerning some trouble-causing kids. Yet, not only was the Bernie Mac Show a success thanks to black audiences, but the show was loved by a lot of critics and seemed to smash its way into the homes of mainstream and white America.
And yeah, you could say that it’s because one was a T.V. Show, while the other was a PG-13 animated film starring a black cast. But you have to wonder. If a film like Bebe’s Kids would have been released today in theaters or even some channel like Adult Swim, would it have fared better with more people?



Huh, that’s an interesting take, and is pretty much what I was thinking was the problem I had with it. The fact that I just don’t get it, and the way the characters talk, interact, and what they talk about it is so different from how I talk and interact with, well, white people like me.  But because it’s different, I ain’t about to trash it because I don’t get it, in fact I kind of appreciate it for that fact.

Thanks for totally killin’ it, buddy.

TRIVIA

  • this movie was the directorial debut of  Bruce W. Smith
  • he film received generally negative reviews from critics but was well reviewed from the audience.
  • The film currently holds a 25 percent “Rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes
  • It was released on DVD on October 5, 2004, but was discontinued by Paramount in March 2008.
  • The original theatrical and home video release were preceded by the short, Itsy Bitsy Spider. This title (including the Itsy Bitsy Spider short) was also released on Laserdisc in March 1993.
  • It was later adapted into a poorly reviewed video game on the Super Nintendo in 1994.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My uncle had this movie on laserdisc and when I bought his collection off of him that’s when I first saw it. Gotta admit, I kinda liked it, and I still kinda like it. It’s a movie you can definitely get some laughs at, even if it is pretty mean spirited.