Inside the the fascinating mind of Disney animation legend Floyd Norman
Since Walt Disney first put pen to paper and created that cute little mouse in 1928, America has had a perpetual love affair with all things Disney. Animation has come a long way since the early days of artists drawing sketch after sketch to create a continuous story, but there’s something about the classic art of animated cartoons that has thoroughly captured the hearts and imaginations of both young and old.
Cartoonist Floyd Norman, who will be the guest of honor at Atlantis Fantasy World on Saturday, Feb. 13, has played a major role in creating many of the animated features that are synonymous with the Disney empire.
You may not have heard his name, but you most definitely have seen his work: Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, The Sword in The Stone, The Jungle Book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, and the list goes on. Norman was the first African-American artist hired by Walt Disney and began working in the studio in the 1950s. Norman has fond memories of the man behind the mouse. “Walt Disney was an extraordinary leader who inspired all of us to do our best,” Norman says. “Often, he made us do better than our best. Walt was an old guy who remained childlike to the end of his days. Never cynical or pessimistic, he always looked for the best in people. He entertained the world, but, more importantly, he inspired people. His optimism was contagious, and he gave us all hope for something better.”
Joe Ferrara, long-time owner of Santa Cruz institution Atlantis Fantasy World, is a particular fan of the cartoonist’s work on The Jungle Book and recalls a story Norman shared with him about it. “It was his idea that the snake’s eyes would hypnotize you,” Ferarra says. “He was nervous about talking to Walt about it because it was hard to get anything by Walt.” But get the idea by Walt Norman did, and the “Trust in Me” song has become one of many Disney icons.
Norman grew up in Santa Barbara in the 1930s, when animated films were still in their infancy. But he clearly remembers the moment that inspired him to make a career out of animation. “My mom took me to see Walt Disney’s Bambi when I was a little kid,” Norman says. “I saw drawings up on the big screen that moved and talked. It was magical and I said that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” In addition to the myriad films Norman did for Disney, he worked for Hanna-Barbera Productions on such TV characters as the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo, Tom & Jerry and the Smurfs.
Throughout his long-standing career, Norman has won many prestigious honors and awards including being proclaimed a “Disney Legend” in 2007. Norman was also personally commissioned by Diane Disney-Miller (Walt Disney’s daughter) to help assist her in the development of the Disney Family Museum at the Presidio in San Francisco. “I’m proud to be part of a very special business,” Norman continues. “A business that entertains and delights people. And, what could be better than putting a smile on the faces in the audience? I’m also proud to have worked alongside some of the most incredible talents in the business. Certainly that includes the Old Maestro, Walt Disney.”
It hasn’t always been a bed of roses for Norman, who calls animation “a daunting task.” But for anyone out there who has the passion and dedication to become an animator, well, Norman says, “it’s the best darn job in the world.”
The event will take place on Saturday, Feb. 13 at Atlantis Fantasy World, 1020 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. At 1 p.m., Norman will present a slide show featuring the highlights of his career, and at 3 p.m. he will be signing a limited-edition print created specifically for this event. For more information, call 426-0158.