Gertie the Dinosaur (1915) – Winsor McCay

I move into another chapter in DK Canada’s immensely enjoyable Monsters in the Movies book from director John Landis. I leave behind Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales and move on to Dragons & Dinosaurs. And first up is one of the earliest examples of animation, Gertie the Dinosaur.

This silent short film was originally created for use in McCay’s vaudeville act but was expanded with live action bookends before it toured theatrically.

Gertie is summoned from her cave where she performs simple tricks and cavorts for the viewing audience. Something that must have been unparalleled at the time for the early cinema crowds.

The animation is basic and by every definition cartoony. But there is also a nice attention to detail as Gertie interacts with her environment, eating and drinking from it and reacting to a sea serpent and mammoth that come her way.

By today’s standards, there’s not a lot to it, but one definitely has to recognize the achievement of the film and the way a moving image can captivate and delight an audience.

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Gertie’s design would definitely upset palaeontologists today, but in terms of amusing characters, she is certainly endearing and seems to have more in common with a pet dog than a herbivore that walked the surface 65 million years ago.

There’s a magic to the cartoon quality of Gertie, and watching her stride across the screen, even knowing how she was created (or because of it) makes it all the more incredible.

The bookend live action bits are fun as it features McCay and friends touring a museum and a bet coming into play about making a dinosaur walk again, and behave like a well-trained dog.

Including the bookends the short only runs about thirteen minutes, there’s not a lot to it, but I’m sure a number of people were separated from their two bits and wowed by what they saw on the screen.

Gertie may in fact be the oldest dinosaur in cinema. She certainly wouldn’t be the last, and its rather delightful that this well-behaved creature would be the first of many, a lot of whom were nowhere near as friendly.

It’s going to be a interesting chapter to explore and it’s going to be fun watching the way special effects and creativity bring these amazing beings to life.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Pick up a copy of DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies and find a Jurassic or Triassic treat to watch tonight. Or something equally as monstrous.

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