Netflix is helping tell the story of the Black animator who was part of the success behind some of Walt Disney’s most iconic films of the 20th century.
Way before Disney strayed from its habit of telling tales centered only on docile, lily-white princesses, a black animator helped bring its stories to life.
In “Sleeping Beauty,” a crew of cheery, vibrant birds flit across the screen; in “The Sword in the Stone” a no-nonsense owl keeps Merlin company. Floyd Norman worked as a clean-up artist and an assistant animator on these films, respectively. He helped finesse their aesthetic, but his work was uncredited. Today, his art is celebrated ― in a documentary released this year, “Floyd Norman: An Animated Life.”
The film follows Floyd’s work for Disney in 1959, when he was the studio’s first black animator, through his continuing contribution to the film industry today. Disney tried to force Norman to retire from his post at 65, but he asserted that he’d like to continue to contribute as a freelancer ― which he still does today, at 81.
In the film, a colleague describes Norman as “the Forrest Gump of animation,” which may seem like purplish praise. But for a man who worked on “101 Dalmatians,” “The Jungle Book,” and other classics, and who refuses to quit, the compliment feels accurate.