Spotlight on Disney Legend: Floyd Norman

Inducted as a Disney Legend in 2007, Floyd Norman is a renowned artist whose career with the Walt Disney Company spans seven decades. Today, he continues creating art and writing about his experiences with Disney and beyond, and sharing his love for animation with fans from around the world.

Credit: Disney

Norman was born on June 22, 1935, in Santa Barbara, California. As a child, he was incredibly interested in films and artwork from the Walt Disney Studios, even telling D23, “I first recognized Walt Disney’s signature before I could read. I would see that famous signature on books and comics, and I asked my grandmother, ‘What is that name?’ She said, ‘That’s Walt Disney.’ I never forgot that name. I just felt like I wanted to work at the Disney Studio one day.”

His next memorable encounter with the Walt Disney Company outside of admiring animators’ work from afar came when he took a trip to the Disney Studio as a high school student. It was a Saturday morning, so the studio was closed, but seeing his enthusiasm the guard at the gate allowed him to walk through the property and by the Animation Building. Later, Floyd recalled a sense of excitement recognizing the names of animators he had seen in the credits of Disney films, and while he did not land a job that day, his visit to the studio helped solidify his dream of eventually working for the company and becoming an animator himself.

Credit: Disney

After high school, Normal enrolled at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where he majored in Illustration. He was a successful undergraduate student, however, after his third year at the school, he received a job offer from Walt Disney Animation Studios to work on Sleeping Beauty (1959). He took the job, and never returned to finish his final year and a half of school, but given his illustrious career beyond Sleeping Beauty, we’d say he made the right choice!

Norman’s first role with the Walt Disney Company was as an in-betweener and animator on Sleeping Beauty, which he followed up by working a similar role on The Sword in the Stone (1963), and The Jungle Book (1967). He was thrilled to be a part of the company where his passion for art and storytelling could be put to work, and he later recalled that he chose the best time to start with the company due to all of the projects going on when he first came on board, “The studio was probably the busiest it had been in many years. They were just moving into television. Disneyland was under construction. They were doing feature films, and they were still doing shorts at that time. I don’t think I even saw Walt Disney the first few weeks, because he was so busy.”

Credit: Disney

In 1966, shortly after the death of Walt Disney, Norman left the company to co-found the AfroKids animation studio with his colleague Leo Sullivan. Among projects the two worked on were such notable programs as the original Hey! Hey! Hey! It’s Fat Albert television special (1969) and a number of segments for Sesame Street. The studio, a subsidiary of Vignette Films, Inc. was among the first film companies to produce such a variety of works covering topics within Black history.

In the early 1970s, Norman made his return to Walt Disney Animation Studios to work on the animated production of Robin Hood (1973). Shortly after production on Robin Hood wrapped, Norman worked on a number of animated TV programs including Hanna-Barbera, and in the 1980s, he was among the last writers to work in Disney’s comic strip department before this side of the studio closed.

In his later years with the Walt Disney Company, Norman is credited with such works as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Mulan (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), and Monsters Inc. (2001). More recently, he has continued to work with Disney as a consultant for all kinds of film projects. Today, he is also an accomplished writer, with a number of non-fiction books and illustration credits under his belt.

Credit: Disney

Norman has been the recipient of a number of notable awards over the years, in addition to becoming a Disney Legend, beginning in 1979, when he was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Since then, he has become the recipient of the Winsor McCay Award at the 2002 Annie Awards, which recognizes an artist for “lifetime contributions to the art of animation. He has also received the Special Achievement Award from the African-American Film Critics Association (2016) and he became the recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy degree from Cogswell Polytechnical College in 2018, among many others.

In addition to consulting on Disney projects, Norman continues to create art and write to this today. Through his personal blog posts and speaking engagements on various podcasts, Norman has (perhaps controversially) expressed his desire for Disney to re-release The Song of the South, which he saw as a child when he debuted in 1946. On the subject of the film, which is effectively “banned” today in the United States, Norman has said:

I’ve always loved this delightful film and began supporting it even as a ten-year-old kid. Years later, I even pushed my own experiment by screening unofficial showings of Song of the South to black audiences to test Disney’s assessment of the motion picture. Not surprisingly, audiences of color loved the motion picture and even requested a second viewing. Of course, there were always civil rights activists with their own personal agendas. They found traction in continually painting Walt Disney as a racist and the movie as an insult to black people.

Credit: Disney

On a similar subject, Norman wrote the foreword for Disney Historian Jim Korkis’ book, Who’s Afraid of The Song of the South? (2012) which covers the history of the Disney animated film and other controversial events throughout the history of the Walt Disney Company.

Norman has summed up his career by telling D23, “I’m sort of a Disney… kind of a troublemaker, a story artist. Animator—tried to be an animator. But mainly writer, artist, and a guy who’s trying to learn his craft. Been doing it now for about 40 years and, just beginning to get the hang of it.”

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."

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