Gertie the Dinosaur turned 100 yesterday. If you’re like the group of people I was with yesterday when I mentioned this amazing feat your response will be similar. What’s that? Who or what on Earth is Gertie the Dinosaur? Shakes head sadly. Well it’s a good thing I’m here to educate and terrify you. I’m mean entertain. Educate and entertain you.
Gertie the Dinosaur was one of the earliest animated films ever made. It has sometimes been incorrectly identified as the first animated film but writer / director Winsor McCay had previous directed a couple of animated films and there were several other short films made before that. 1908’s Fantasmagorie for example. Winsor McCay was a cartoonist who created such brilliant comic strips as Little Nemo and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend.
McCay had brought Little Nemo to the screen in 1912 and followed that short with a film called How a Mosquito Operates. But with Gertie the Dinosaur McCay became the first person to bring the legendary creatures to life. Along with cartooning, McCay also had a vaudeville show where he would show his animated films. Gertie was a huge hit for McCay but it took McCay away from his day job (writing and drawing comic strips) and his boss William Randolph Hearst was less than pleased. Hearst would soon forbid any of his employees from appearing in vaudeville. Near the end of 1914 McCay had signed a contract with a film producer to move the short into movie theatres. McCay shot a live action opening and closing to the film to replace what McCay would normally be doing in his vaudville act.
The film is about 15 minutes long. McCay and his friends enter a museum and look at some dinosaur skeletons. McCay then bets that he can animate what a dinosaur would look and move like. When McCay finishes he shows the film to his friends where he interacts with his cartoon dinosaur. McCay made a couple more shorts and he started a sequel to Gertie that he never finished. Later he became disgusted with the state of animated films stating “Animation is an art. That is how I conceived it. But as I see, what you fellows have done with it, is making it into a trade. Not an art, but a trade. Bad Luck!”
As for Gertie the Dinosaur, it’s simple enough cartoon, lighthearted and entertaining but it was ground breaking and it paved the way for animation and dinosaurs in movies.