know someone is important when the Disney mouse licenses clips and likenesses
for their documentary produced outside and completely independent of the Magic Kingdom.
Animator-storyman Floyd Norman has that kind of stature in the business.
Although he is an officially recognized “Disney Legend,” Norman has had a
complicated relationship with the Disney company, but that never diminishes his
pride in the work he did there. The beloved animator takes stock of his career and
speaks his mind throughout Michael Fiore & Erik Sharkey’s Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Santa Barbara was a tucked away corner of utopia in the 1930s and 1940s, which
is why the extended Norman family flocked there. According to Norman, he had a
happy, well-adjusted childhood there, availing himself of the museum’s art
classes, just like any other resident. As a teen, he even had the opportunity
to assist local Archie Comics veteran Bill Woggon on his Katy Keene fashion
model comic book. Eventually, Norman’s talent and experience landed him his
dream job at the Disney studio, working under the master himself on classics
like Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the
Stone, Jungle Book, and 101 Dalmatians.
Disney was a no-nonsense boss, but always fair in his blunt-spoken way. Years
later, Norman would be incensed by Meryl Streep’s unhinged attacks on his
former boss’s character, so he fired off a decidedly pointed rejoinder. Sign us
up for Team Norman. After all, nobody understands the history and evolution of
Disney’s corporate culture better than Norman. Frankly, he is always reluctant
to make a big deal out of his status as the first African American in the
animation department. As far as he seems to be concerned, race was never an
issue in his career. Granted, that sentiment might come with a few caveats, but
it is the ageism that forced him into early retirement that really rankled
Norman, as he makes crystal clear.
is easy to see why Norman is considered a legend among his peers and savvy
ComicCon attendees. During his various Disney stints, he periodically penned
satiric cartoons at the managements expense, much like vintage David Letterman
needling the pinheads at G.E. He also had a tenure at Hanna-Barbara and was
part of the team at Pixar that made Toy
Story 2 too good to be released straight to DVD.
pretty much is animation history, but he never comes across as a museum relic. Animated Life basically captures the two
sides of Norman: the enthusiastic fanboy and the plain-speaking truth-teller. Both
are completely engaging. As it happens, Norman’s story continued to develop as
Fiore & Sharkey were documenting it.
Arguably, the extent of Disney imagery allowed throughout
Animated Life says what you need to
know about Norman’s place in the studio’s history. Fiore & Sharkey
recognize his winning screen presence and have the good sense to run with it.
The co-directors are clearly down with Team Norman as well, but Animated Life is too opinionated to be
considered mere hagiography. It has an edge, but there is still plenty of
nostalgia for Disney (and Hanna-Barbara and Fat
Albert) fans. Highly recommended for those who value the art and craft of
animation, Floyd Norman: An Animated Life
opens this Friday (8/26) in New York, at the Village East and in Orlando at
the AMC Disney Springs.
Labels: Documentary, Floyd Norman, Walt Disney