In today’s America, working stiffs – men and women who religiously punch the clock on a single job – are not as lauded as hedge fund billionaires who overcharge for pharmaceuticals or amateur actors who became millionaires overnight by allowing producers to script their “reality”. The truth is, successful people like Michael Jordon, Steve Jobs, and Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg are also all working stiffs – they put in long hours of disciplined work to accomplish their goals, just like your longtime postal delivery guy or the doorman who opened the door when you left for your first day of school and when you visited home after graduating college, each putting in the same long, disciplined hours of work. Combine being a working stiff with happiness and passion for the job, and you get animator, writer, and comic book artist Floyd Norman, the subject of the documentary Floyd Norman: An Animated Life directed by Directed by Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey.

Walt Disney Productions employed Floyd as an “inbetweener” on the original Sleeping Beauty, released in 1959, and he became the first African-American artist to remain at the studio on a long-term basis. Floyd says he got the job because of his talents and his ability to perform the arduous tasks of an inbetweener (inbetweeners produce the drawings of previously completed key poses, in order to complete the illusion of movement and action) and that he just happened to be black. He was on the creative teams of some of the most popular cartoons of our time, including Snow White, Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids, 101 Dalmatians, Scooby Doo, and Toy Story 2. He even did the animated intro for the dance show Soul Train.

Race, however, is not the thesis of the documentary. The film explores ageism, a subject not raised enough in American society. Through sit-down and Cinéma vérité interviews with Floyd, his family, and some of Hollywood’s top animators and producers, we learn that Floyd was let go from Disney at 65 when he was still very much on top of his game. Floyd’s personal struggle with being fired from Disney because he was too old provides audiences the opportunity to explore the subject in their own lives, and this is the strength of the film

Should Floyd’s genius be rewarded financially, and with a place at the design table for as long as his mind and body can create? Not being able to pull a lever in a factory is one thing, but if your only job requirement is to understand new technologies, observe, think, and draw, and your work is up to par, why should you be replaced by someone else just because they are younger? As Floyd would say, everybody has ideas but you have to be able execute those ideas. Floyd has executed many ideas.

Fans of animations will enjoy the visual history of films from studios like Disney, Hanna-Barbera and Pixar in addition to glances into the inner workings of a studio creative process as the camera follows Floyd around the Disney studio back room offices. Interviews from Hollywood’s most acclaimed animators and writers also up the wow factor for fans. The films greatest strength, though, is its universal appeal and what it has to say about the American working stiff.

Video courtesy of Movieclips.

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