A groundbreaking 1914 theatrical short subject from the mind of Little Nemo creator Winsor McCay, Gertie the Dinosaur is a landmark short in personality animation, influencing many artists and future animation pioneers, including Otto Messmer, Paul Terry and Walt Disney.
The short (well, the non-vaudeville version) starts off with Winsor visiting the Natural History Museum in New York with several of his fellow cartoonists, making a bet that he can "make the dinosaurs live again by a series of hand-drawn cartoons." Winsor and his assistants promptly begin work on the cartoon, showing it to the cartoonists six months later. The animation then shows Gertie herself, going about activities such as eating a pumpkin that Winsor throws to her, or throwing a woolly mammoth into a nearby lake (he counters by squirting her, which she doesn't take well).
The reason for the cartoon being made spawned from criticism of Winsor's earlier shorts Little Nemo and How a Mosquito Operates, with skeptical audience members (wrongly) accusing him that he traced off of live-action footage to animate the human characters — so Winsor proceeded to push his mastery of perspective and mass to the limits and created something that you couldn't get from live action. And boy, did he succeed.
The cartoon came in two versions: the full version with Winsor appearing in a live-action opening, and the roadshow version which only has the Gertie footage. One studio even created their own unauthorized knockoff of the film!
Gertie was to receive a sequel short called Gertie on Tour, but it was ultimately left unfinished, and sadly only a fragment of it has survived, barely lasting over a minute.
Gertie the Dinosaur provides examples of the following tropes:
- Big Eater / Extreme Omnivore: Gertie eats a pumpkin, a tree (roots and all) bigger than she is, and a rock. She also sucks a lake completely dry.
- Black Hole Belly: But her size doesn't increase.
- Escalating War: At one point a woolly mammoth, named "Jumbo" by the captions, gets in front of the screen. An annoyed Gertie throws him into the sea. Jumbo responds by hosing her with water from his trunk. Gertie throws a rock at him in retaliation.
- Domesticated Dinosaurs: Gertie, who's essentially a sauropod that acts like a trained elephant.
- Framing Device: Seems pretty pointless, although maybe more necessary to 1914 moviegoers that hadn't seen a lot of cartoons.
- Gentle Giant Sauropod: Gertie is a very gentle sauropod who obeys McCay's commands and even allows him to ride her. That said, she has a little bit of a mischievous streak, like tossing a wooly mammoth in a lake just for her own amusement.
- Giant Flyer: A four-winged monster flies by and startles Gertie.
- Limited Animation: Played straight in that there are enough repeat drawings and loops that it borders on an Overly Long Gag, but subverted in that the background had to be redrawn for each frame, as the concept of transparent cels used for animation had not yet been realized.
- Line Boil: Evident on the background, which had to be retraced on every frame. McCay felt it made the whole image seem alive.
- Roger Rabbit Effect: Possibly the earliest example — Winsor himself would actually appear on screen with Gertie.
- The vaudeville show also took this about as far as it could go—that is, Winsor himself, live on stage, interacting with the cartoon.
- Sea Monster: Irritates Gertie early in the animation.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Gertie gets into a short war with a woolly mammoth, Jumbo. Both the captions and the roadshow presenter would scold Gertie like a parent would a child picking on their sibling.
- Stock Dinosaurs:
- Stock Footage: Numerous frames are repeated in the animation part.
- Trope Maker: For animation as a whole. Animated cartoons had been made before then, but Gertie was the very first animated cartoon character with a distinct personality. "Gertie" was also (says The Other Wiki) "the first film to use animation techniques such as keyframes, registration marks, tracing paper, the Mutoscope action viewer, and animation loops."