If you were to ask a group of people what the heart of Disney is, what do you think their answer would be?
Would it be its lovable characters? Mickey Mouse and his gang?
Or would it be the numerous movies and TV shows that make up the Disney archive?
Or maybe they would choose Walt Disney himself? The man and the legend who created the second largest media company in the world?
Personally, I would choose its animators. The huge number of men and women that, with a stroke of pen, can create worlds and characters for us to fall in love with. Though they may be relegated to a scroll of names on the movie screen, they nevertheless have influenced our lives in more ways than we can count. And Floyd Norman is one of those names.
Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (FNAAL) follows Floyd Norman, a talented animator and artist, who also happens to be among some of the first black artists to work for Disney’s animation department.
Over the course of approximately a year of filming, we explore the 50 or so years that Norman has spent in the industry. The highs and lows of both his professional and personal life are open as Norman takes us on his incredible journey.
We’re introduced to Norman on the cusp of his 79th birthday as various talking heads tell of their interactions and experiences with the legendary animator; and how his work and positive attitude influences them on a daily basis.
Flashing back and forth, we then explore Norman’s various contributions to seismic works of animation, such as 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, 1967’s The Jungle Book, an abundance of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, as well as more modern day fare such as Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc.
This exploration is accompanied by some beautiful and whimsical animation that act as sort of vignettes for Norman’s life, and end up being some of the most entertaining pieces of the documentary.
Interestingly, while several of the documentary’s participants draw attention to the colour of Norman’s skin and the trailblazing path he forged for other people of colour; Norman himself seems rather nonplussed by such attitudes, instead seeing himself as an artist before an African-American.
Disregarding race or gender, Norman’s mind seems far more forced on age, as his forced dismissal from Disney at the age of 65 is clearly still a sore point, even after all these years.
To be fair, I do wonder how much influence Norman (and his animating partner, Leo Sullivan) had on encouraging black people to enter the world of animation, especially since the film itself doesn’t seem to feature any modern day black animators.
Also, the film sometimes decides to only make minor touches upon some major points of his personal life, such as the divorce from his first wife or his military service during the Korean War. Because of this, at some points it feels that the filmmakers were only trying to portray Floyd Norman: The Legend!, rather than Floyd Norman: The Man.
While this documentary isn’t one of those hard hitting “issues” stories which go on to win Oscars, FNAAL is nonetheless an engaging movie of the trials and tribulations one man went through on his journey to do what he loved.