Did you know that Comic-Con awards prizes to movies? I had no idea. But it sounds like pretty much the biggest no-brainer ever that Floyd Norman: An Animated Life won Best Documentary there this year. Anyone who was a kid in the 20th century knows Norman’s work, whether they know it or not: he was an animator and/or a story creator on so many cool things that you won’t believe one man could have spread himself around so much. A very incomplete list of where you have seen Norman’s work and felt his influence: Disney’s animated features Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, and Mary Poppins; the Fat Albert TV cartoons; the animated logo for Soul Train; the Hanna-Barbera TV series including Scooby Doo, Johnny Quest, and Josie & the Pussycats; six years’ worth of the Mickey Mouse daily and Sunday newspaper comic strip in the 80s; Toy Story 2; Robot Chicken.
Filmmakers Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey introduce us to this utter and heretofore unsung hero of American pop culture, and he is the most cheerful curmudgeon you can imagine. When Disney — where he had bounced in and out and around just about every creative division for half a century — tried to force him to retire at 65, he said, “Nope,” and just kept going to the office. Fifteen years later, he is still “Floydering” around at the Mouse as the “wise old man” imparting his wit and the lessons of his experience to the youngsters. (It’s hard to believe Norman is 80. He looks 20 years younger, and has a spirit that is even younger still.) Star animation filmmakers such as Dean DeBlois and Gary Trousdale, critics and historians, and celebs such as Whoopi Goldberg fill us in on the details that Norman is too modest — or too dismissive of — to share. (He was the first black animator at Disney, which “was not the most progressive place” in the 1950s, yet he insists “I was just another artist looking for a job.”)
“Any time there’s a great moment in animation,” we are informed, “look around: there’s Floyd.” He’s a charming character and a fascinating player in cinema history, and An Animated Life is absolutely essential viewing for Disney devotees, fans of animation, those interested in the deeply collaborative nature of the art of making animated films, and everyone who recognizes the value in keeping the “wise old men” around so we can pick their brains for as long as possible.