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Upon first glance, Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur (1) does not have a lot going for it. The cartoon, created in 1914, is in black and white, has no vocal sound (you need to read title cards), and has inconsistent animation (the background shimmers from time to time). But despite these qualities, Gertie, even today, is still one of the most celebrated of early American animations. Gertie the Dinosaur possesses many enduring qualities that help it stand out to this day. Some of these qualities include Gertie’s design, personality, her environment, and her relationship to McCay.



The first enduring quality about McCay’s animation is Gertie’s design and her similarities to other animals. Though she is a dinosaur, she is animated to move to qualities that are similar to animals we know of today. For example, McCay animated Gertie’s walk to be similar to those of an elephant and she chews up rocks, trees, and pumpkins like a cow. These familiar qualities are recognizable and make her more likeable rather than unusual.

The second quality Gertie possesses is her human-like personality. In many ways, Gertie likes to obey McCay’s commands and is happy to perform them. She also likes to be stubborn and rebellious. One example is when McCay asks her to lift her left foot, but she snaps at him in rebellion. This is when we see that Gertie can also be sensitive. After she snaps, McCay scolds her, and she cries. Gertie also has the ability to express fear when Jumbo the Mammoth walks pass her. Gertie’s personality makes her very memorable and an interesting critic on her environment.

The third enduring quality is the environment in which Gertie is placed. McCay’s use of perspective gives Gertie’s environment a three-dimensional look, a quality not too many early animations had. For example, when Gertie walks up to the viewer, she gets bigger, or when Gertie tosses Jumbo into the lake, he gets smaller with distance. The environment was also drawn with great detail and contained many creatures for Getie to interact (or get distracted) with, like the sea serpent, the four-winged lizard, and, of course, Jumbo the mammoth.

The forth quality that make Gertie so enduring is the relationship between McCay and Gertie. I find that McCay and Gertie have a trusting relationship. Although Gertie gets distracted by her environment, McCay knows that she has good behavior and will listen to him. Gertie knows that McCay trust her and knows that McCay will not stay mad at her when she makes a mistake. So, its not that the artist and his art have became friends, but two different personalities, characters, if you will, have formed a bond that will be known from years to come.

Gertie the Dinosaur achieved greatness with these qualities that many animations didn’t have at the time. Gertie inspired a generation of animators and cartoonist and still inspires today, with Gertie’s qualities influencing the many cartoons we know today.


(1) Day50912A. Cartoon from early 1900’s – Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). Online video. 7 mins 37 secs. 17 Sept 2009.

4 Responses to “4- The Enduring Qualities of Gertie the Dinosaur”

  1. Prof. P says:

    Kaila, very nice job combining material from the lecture and your own thinking.

  2. Bryan Clark says:

    This blog post is very interesting and I commend you on taking ideas from our textbook and merging them with your own knowledge. Indeed Gertie possessed many qualities that set her apart from other early animations and made her more appealing to the audiences. Even though no one had seen a dinosaur, they could relate to her chewing a tree or her crying. Great job!

  3. This is true as the audience we do enjoy being able to connect with the character well and we do this especially so when we recognize differant characteristics within a cartoon. In this case with gertie, for example seeing her chew like a cow and walk like an elephant is a great way of illustrating this point in seeing her do these things we can relate to her better because even though we may not think these things conciously we do see them subconsiously and by doing so we better relate to any character. By being able to relate we are more a part of the viewig process and when we feel more enthralled by a picture we are more likely to come back to see it again.

  4. Cristian P says:

    I really liked that the dinosaur that was being animated was given human-like characteristics. What’s even more interesting is that the dinosaur is doing more of a “call and response” to the cartoonist shown in the beginning. It is expressed to the audience that this is supposed to be “real life” and that the animation has a personality to it reflected of its creator.