With the arrival of Walt Disney’s 1967 animated hit The Jungle Book, there’s been a lot of attention to Disney Legend Floyd Norman, and rightly so. He worked for the studio at a point when it was changing in size, focus and its approach to animation. His career at Disney, as well as at other studios, including Hanna-Barbera, happened as tectonic shifts were occurring in entertainment as well as in the country.
Floyd also has no problem speaking from the heart. His opinions and his love for his craft, especially as it flourished at Disney, is matter-of-fact. And he has had reveled in affectionate but barbed satire of his workplaces through the insider gag sketches that have become legends in themselves. From Walt to Bill and Joe to Michael and Jeffrey, check out his cartoon collections and enjoy the ride.
With all this in mind, the challenge of an interview with Floyd is figuring out where to start and trying to avoid the same old, same old. But you can’t blame a guy for trying.
GREG: First of all, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your book, The Animated Life. And what I loved about it was how you were up front with the pros and cons of the business, but always in a way that didn’t diss anyone. It’s the kind of book I would want to write someday, even though my career can’t get near the same chart as yours.
FLOYD: Thank you. I really wanted to bring readers into those days, to know what it was like when I worked in the Walt days, and what I have learned about animation.
GREG: I also want to thank you for the eloquent and knowledgeable way you have addressed recent public character attacks on the man you call “the Old Mousetro.”
FLOYD: Thanks again. I said what I thought needed to be said, and it was all true. I was there.
GREG: You were at the Walt Disney Studios during what might be called a sea change in its approach to animation. Sleeping Beauty was the classic fairy tale done on a grand scale, but its box office results made it necessary to look at animation in a very different way.
FLOYD: Well, the had changed a lot. We had to make features with a lot less money, but still retain the quality people expected. I think we succeeded in a lot of ways, particularly with the strength of the story and the characters. The budget didn’t matter to the audience and they still loved the work we did.
GREG: Even though it’s not a very equivalent comparison, you also experienced a similar turning point during your Hanna-Barbera days. As the studio grew, the cartoons were done, as you’ve said, “Faster, cheaper!”
FLOYD: Yes, and some of the things I worked on were fine, while some weren’t very good.
GREG: But you know, it didn’t matter to us kids watching on Saturday morning. I liked Captain Caveman and a lot of the other shows. Still do.
GREG: No, really! If you take into account the speed you all were working at, it’s a wonder that those shows are even coherent.
FLOYD: That’s because there were some of the best artists working at Hanna-Barbera. It was amazing what they could do.
GREG: But working on The Jungle Book must have been incredible.
FLOYD: I came into it later in the production. There had been changes along the way.
GREG: Is it true that there was originally only one Kaa scene?
FLOYD: Yes. And Walt really liked it so he asked for a second one. Dick and Bob Sherman wrote that great song for it.
GREG: What do you think of the Blu-ray?
FLOYD: I think it looks great. They did a great job on it.
GREG: When I was a kid, my brother and I called the ‘60s Disney cartoons “the ones with the scritchy lines.” We didn’t know what the Xerox process was, and frankly we liked the smoother lines better in the other features. Didn’t Walt hate the scritchy lines?
FLOYD: At first, he didn’t like them, when he saw the look of 101 Dalmatians. But it didn’t bother him later.
GREG: When you watch The Jungle Book now, do you recognize the precise moments of your work?
FLOYD: I recognize every one, every time. I’m grateful for being part of it.