“Everything Floyd Norman says is worth writing down. The longtime Disney animator carries an impossibly sunny disposition, almost always speaking in complete sentences with enviable poise.
That’s not empty flattery. Norman’s colleagues seem to agree. For proof, see the new documentary “Floyd Norman: An Animated Life.”
Opening in limited release and premiering on VOD platforms this weekend, the movie traces its 81-year-old subject’s boundless devotion to Disney. In 1956, Norman became the studio’s first black animator, working alongside Walt Disney himself as a story artist on such classics as “Sleeping Beauty,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book” and “Robin Hood.”
Norman left Disney after Walt’s death in 1966, instead capturing footage of the civil-rights movement and working on other animated properties, including “The Smurfs,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Fat Albert.” His devotion brought him back to Disney in the ‘90s, when he contributed to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Mulan,” “Monsters, Inc.” and more. But Norman was forced into retirement at age 65. He was understandably bitter, but Disney was home. Norman began showing up with his wife, who works at Disney Publishing, and his celebrity status around the campus grew. That led, inevitably, to more gigs, meaning he is, once again, employed at Disney.
The documentary, directed by Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey, is a sweet take on a life devoted to merriment. That Norman broke boundaries along the way is, in his eyes, happenstance. I hopped on the phone with Norman earlier this week to gab about Disney’s history.
You arrived at the tail end of Disney’s golden days, and you left right as the quality waned in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then you returned after the proverbial Disney Renaissance hit in the ‘90s. So you’ve pretty much only been there when the studio was thriving.
I never felt like I really left, though. Even though I wasn’t part of that ‘80s and early ‘90s renaissance, I was still nearby because I was working at Disney Publishing. So I was still able to watch it all firsthand…”