Photo Credit: Disney
At Disney's Hollywood Studios, it's fairly hard to miss the big, green dinosaur covered in snow on the banks of Echo Lake. That's Gertie!
Gertie is a character who I got to know because of her presence as the head honcho at Dinosaur Gertie's Ice Cream of Extinction, a soft serve kiosk that's open seasonally in Hollywood Studios. But, what I never realized was Gertie's connection to the history of animation and Walt Disney.
Her full name is actually Gertie the Trained Dinosaur, from the 1914 animated short film, Gertie the Dinosaur. The film was created by cartoonist, Winsor McCay. McCay was a commercially successful artist and created multiple newspaper comic strips, before eventually transitioning into vaudeville. Inspired by flip books that his son would bring home, he realized the entertainment value that animated moving pictures possessed early on.
Advertisement for Gertie and McCay's act. Photo credit: Wikipedia
Gertie became one of the most detailed works of McCay's up to that point, and was the first known animated feature to star a dinosaur. A dinosaur with a personality to be exact. In the film, Gertie would perform a series of tricks, like bowing and rolling over, like she was trained to do so. In McCay's act, he would stand before the live audience in front of the screen showing the film, and perform as if he was Gertie's trainer directing her motions. But Gertie also had feelings. Sometimes getting distracted, not following McCay's commands, and even being brought to tears, she was a truly anthropomorphized character. By the end of the act, McCay would run off stage and "reappear" in the animated film with Gertie. The finale was him riding off on Gertie's back.
McCay being lifted by Gertie in the film. Photo credit: Wikipedia
The act was a hit with both audiences and critics, praised for its humor and its animation.
Walt Disney was only 12 years old when Gertie the Dinosaur made its debut, but the legacy of Gertie can be seen in Walt's work. The Alice Comedies' (1920s) use of live action with animation is said to be inspired by McCay's show with Gertie. In Fantasia (1940), the "Rite of Spring" segment (cue Stravinsky!) portrays dinosaurs in a realistic, natural way, much like how McCay animated Gertie.
Walt regarded McCay as a pioneer in animated features, particularly in illustrating that they could be a commercial success. Walt said, “Winsor McCay’s Gertie and other animation novelties stimulated a great public interest and created a demand for this new medium. This, in turn, encouraged other pioneers to creative efforts that in time, led to the establishment of the animated cartoon as an industry.”
Photo credit: Disney
When Imagineers were creating and building ideas for a new park about Hollywood and film history, it seemed fitting to honor Gertie in a big way. They came up with the idea of building Gertie in the architecture style "California Crazy," where everyday businesses, like a soft serve ice cream stand, would be housed or adorned with a larger than life icon like a dino. This tribute not only fits in perfectly with the Hollywood that never was in this area of Hollywood Studios, but also continues recognize Gertie and McCay for their impact on the animation industry.