Floyd Norman is not just a Disney Legend but a true Disney treasure.
Floyd is an animator who worked on the Walt Disney animated features Sleeping Beauty and The Sword in the Stone as well as a storyman on The Jungle Book. After Walt Disney’s death in 1966, Norman left the Disney Studio to run his own short-lived animation studio, as well as work at a variety of different animation studios, including Hanna-Barbera.
He returned to Disney in the early 1970s to work on a variety of projects including work for Pixar.
Floyd’s book chronicling his career is titled Animated Life: A lifetime of tips, tricks, techniques and stories from an Animation Legend (Focal Press 2012) and he was the subject of the documentary Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (2016).
A collection of his cartoons Son of Faster Cheaper (Theme Park Press 2015) that includes his time at Disney is also available.
I’ve known Floyd since the 1980s and he has always been gracious to share his time and stories. Recently, I did an extensive interview with him about his work on various Mickey Mouse projects from writing the comic strip to working on storybooks to even some work on merchandise. However, he never officially worked on a Mickey Mouse animated cartoon.
Floyd: “Some years ago, I did do some work on a direct-to-video Mickey feature entitled, Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers (2004).
In the 1980s, CEO Michael Eisner asked, “Would it be possible to produce an animated feature that would cost less than a hundred million dollars?” At the time the current crop of Disney films in production were going through the roof in terms of cost.
Michael Eisner never got his “budget feature” from animation but his direct-to-video units began cranking out sequels and prequels to the existing Disney library. Of course they were doing it all on a shoestring when compared to what the big ticket features were costing.
Some years later, I made my way to the second floor of the building where I was suddenly surprised to find a group of old friends and colleagues working away on a project that was so intriguing I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay away. The film in progress was The Three Musketeers project starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. In an era of warmed over sequels and prequels, this little movie was a breath of fresh air.
Before I go any further, let’s zip back to the 1980s when I made my unexpected return to the Disney studio. I can’t remember every idea in development at the time but one was called Mickey Columbus where the Mouse would play the famous explorer and another was a retelling of the Dumas story of The Three Musketeers. These clever ideas, along with many others would be put on the back burner, or worse – completely forgotten.
Now, here we were in 2002, and that Mickey project that I never thought would see the light of day was finally in development. Better yet, the studio had assembled a crew worthy of such a project, a unique group of creatives with a full understanding of the Disney characters and how to use them.
They were knowledgeable concerning shorts of the 1940s, and 1950s. These guys in my opinion were the dream team of cartoon story and I had worked with most of them over the years. Chris Otsuki, Kirk Hanson, Bob Taylor, Daan Jippes, Ken Mitchroney, Don Dougherty and Bob McNight were busily crafting this Disney epic the old fashioned way. They understood how the characters had evolved over time, and how they related to each other. I had little doubt this show would be great.
I continued to work in development on other projects in the Wells Building but I couldn’t stay away from the “Mickey” project. The youthful director, Donavan Cook eventually got used to seeing me hanging around and soon I began sitting in on story pitches and watching over the shoulder as art direction and styling on the movie progressed.
I was so impressed that I knew this little film was deserving of more than a direct-to-video release. In many ways it reminded me of something that had happened back in 1997 when I began work on a direct-to-video sequel called Toy Story 2.
With The Three Musketeers, Disney finally had the perfect Mickey Mouse vehicle and a movie that was sure to play well in theaters. Adding to that, the upcoming celebration of the Mouse’s seventy-fifth birthday was on the horizon. For a company that prides itself on synergy, things couldn’t have been better.
Think of the promotional opportunities a movie starring Disney’s most famous characters would generate. There was no way the Disney Company was going to let this opportunity slip pass them – or so I thought.
The film was released on home video. The film did enjoy a wonderful, but brief big screen presentation at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. Those who attended the screening confirmed my belief that the movie would indeed play well theatrically. The theater, packed to the hilt with rambunctious kids fell silent when the movie began. Clearly, this was a movie both parents and kids could enjoy together. The Three Musketeers was the family film many of us had been begging Disney to make for years.
On video, the movie probably made a truck load of cash for the Walt Disney Company. Having said that, I have to conclude it’s a sin and a shame this wonderful little film was unceremoniously dumped onto the direct-to-video rack. I even emailed Disney film boss, Dick Cook (no relation to director, Donovan) to reconsider the decision to release the movie only to direct-to-video.
Dick Cook is a nice guy, but I knew even he had to answer to the big boss upstairs. Finally, in my opinion that’s where the rationale for this whole thing becomes clear.
Yes, I’ve heard the arguments why The Three Musketeers failed to gain a theatrical release and those reasons probably make a good deal of sense. Yet, I can’t help wonder if projects such as “Doug,” “Recess,” and “Teacher’s Pet” can score a big screen release, how hard would it be to give the big push to the most recognizable mouse in the world?
Or, perhaps this is not really about shelf space or box office receipts after all. Could there be another agenda, you say?
Or, maybe I’m just being paranoid.”