#3) Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)


#3) Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

OR “Jurassic Art

Written and Directed by Winsor McCay

Class of 1991

View the entire film in its silent glory.

The Plot: Winsor McCay (playing himself and billed as “America’s Greatest Cartoonist”) visits the American Museum of Natural History and sees the skeleton of a real dinosaur. He bets fellow cartoonist George McManus (also playing himself) that he can bring a dinosaur back to life through his cartoons. Incredibly stupid bet aside, McCay goes to work making 10,000 drawings of a dinosaur he names Gertie. At a dinner, McCay demonstrates his moving drawings and makes Gertie do a series of demeaning tricks. There’s also a sea serpent and a mastodon for some reason.

Why It Matters: While not the first animated film ever, “Gertie” helped shape modern animation in a number of ways. It was the first animated film with a background (!), as well as the first to infuse an animal with human-like characteristics. Animation buffs will also note this film’s invention of the techniques “cycling” (reusing the same bit of animation on a loop) and “Keyframe animation” (drawing a character’s main poses first and then drawing the “in-between” poses later).

But Does It Really?: For all of the above, absolutely. Though next time, maybe don’t toot your own horn so much, Mr. America’s Greatest Cartoonist. There were only, like, four of you back then. Cool your jets.

Shout Outs: McCay (ever the epitome of modesty) begins by listing his previous works (and future NFR entries) “Little Nemo” and “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Common usage of the term “dinosaurus”, facial hair that can only be described as “Chester A. Arthurian”.

Take a Shot: Do intertitles count? I mean, no one actually says the name Gertie, but it shows up quite a bit on the cards.

Other notes:

  • The original film consisted solely of the animation, and was screened on the vaudeville circuit with McCay appearing on stage and interacting with Gertie. The live-action prologue was added later.
  • McCay’s son Robert recreated what the live version of “Gertie” would have looked like on a 1955 episode of “Disneyland” (aka “The Wonderful World of Disney”).
  • In addition to animating Gertie, McCay animated the background by hand for each frame of the film. Again, the first animated film with a background, so no one knew you didn’t need to do that.
  • So back to the bet; McCay bets another cartoonist that he can bring a dinosaur to life via animation. This wasn’t McCay’s first film. HE’S DONE THIS BEFORE. And you’re a fellow cartoonist, as well as his friend, you should know this! I think George knew all of this and just wanted McCay to get carpel tunnel.
  • I’m pretty sure one of the other men in the prologue is Sigmund Freud. My only proof is that he was alive back then and one of the guys looks like him. And frankly that’s all I need.
  • Did people always wear suits back then or did cartoonists get paid the same as lawyers?
  • I know we didn’t know a lot about dinosaurs back then, but did they like pumpkins? And why would Gertie want a pumpkin that small? That’s like me staving off hunger with a grain of rice.
  • I gotta admit that the animation on Gertie is still quite amusing 103 years later. I love her little dance at the end!


  • Seeing as how Gertie is the mother of modern animation, I’m going to go ahead and blame her for “Rock Dog”.
  • Gertie is also (according to the actual film historians) the first dinosaur ever to appear on screen, so we have McCay to blame for, let’s say, “Theodore Rex”.
  • And speaking of interacting with a cartoon, I’m giving Gertie credit for “Turtle Talk with Crush”.
  • Gertie is also represented by, of all things, an ice cream shop at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Further Viewing: “Gertie on Tour”, an abandoned sequel that features Gertie in the present day (somehow). Along the way I’m pretty sure she kills an innocent bunch of people on a cable car. Then she dreams about the time she made a spectacle of herself at a dinosaur party. And that’s it.

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