In Celebration of MLK: Floyd Norman, Animator

 

floyd-norman

Floyd Norman, doing what he loves best

The documentary film Floyd Norman:  An Animated Life celebrates a man who has followed his bliss since childhood.  Norman, 81, is known in the entertainment world as the first African-American animator hired by Disney Studios.  His position as a role model for other African-American cartoonists is emphasized in this movie.  However, what really shines through is Norman’s joyous, upbeat attitude in pursuing his passion:  Cartooning.

One colleague has described Norman as “the Forrest Gump of animation.”  His life certainly demonstrates the advantages of being in the right place at the right time.  During Norman’s childhood, his family moved from Mississippi to Santa Barbara.  Norman thus had the opportunity to learn about California’s animation community early on.

As a high-schooler in art school, Norman was “discovered” when a representative from Archie Comics asked for an artist who could do “inking” (fill in borders, draw lettering).  Norman was recommended for the job, and his cartooning career began.

In the 1950’s, Lloyd applied for work at Disney Studios despite being told that Disney would never employ an African-American cartoonist.  Nevertheless, he was hired and started off by doing “in-between work”; in other words, filling in additional movements for animated characters.  Norman eventually went on to provide animation for several feature-length films such as Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmations, The Sword in the Stone, and Mary Poppins.

Norman’s career at Disney takes up a significant amount of this film.  However, the documentary also covers his time at Vignette Films, a company that Norman created in the 1960’s with three African-American colleagues.  Vignette Films produced movies about African-American history.  In addition, Norman and his co-workers went to Watts during the 1965 riots and filmed several incidents which ended up on NBC.

Throughout the documentary, Norman demonstrates an upbeat, glass half-full attitude towards life.  For example, when he was drafted into the military during the Korean War, Norman managed to keep his sanity by drawing cartoons and taking photographs during the conflict.  Although the experience was traumatic for him (as it is for any combat soldier), his feelings about returning to civilian life were quite positive:  “I came back to Disney, and I realized I had the best job in the world….I get a chance to draw cartoons all day…and nobody’s trying to kill me!”

Floyd Norman:  An Animated Life is as much about the animation business as it is about the title subject.  Norman’s colleagues are interviewed throughout the film, and one gets the impression of senior citizens who are in reality mischievous 12-year old kids.  Maybe this is why Norman and so many in his profession live such long lives…. They never grew up!

You can access Floyd Norman:  An Animated Life, by clicking onto the following link:

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*****

Pluses:  Floyd Norman’s sunny personality shines through this film; fascinating information about the politics of working at Disney and other animation companies; delightful animated sequences of Norman, provided by up-and-coming cartoonists.

Minus:  Sections about Norman’s private life are not as interesting as those concerning his professional life.

Cast:  Floyd Norman, Leonard Maltin, Scarlett Johannson, Richard Sherman, Whoopee Goldberg, Leo Sullivan, Suzanne Bothke, Mike Kasaieh, Adrienne Brown-Norman, Sergio Aragones.

Director:  Erik Sharkey and Michael Fiore

Rating:  Not Rated

In color, with animated black-and-white sequences

Length:  One hour, 34 minutes

 

 

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