08 May 2018

Ice Cream of Extinction

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is, even today, filled with glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s golden age, including leading ladies and gents. Perhaps the biggest start to call the park home, however, is none other than Gertie the dinosaur. This gorgeous in green creature has made her way to Echo Lake, apparent from the footprints that have cracked the pavement, and seems contented to remain there and sell ice cream. Gertie actually serves a dual role for the park, as she is an iconic film salute and is the living embodiment of an architectural movement.

Gertie was the star of the 1914 film Gertie the Dinosaur, created by Winsor McCay. With a runtime of 12 minutes, Gertie the Dinosaur was one of the earliest animated features. The film started out life as a gimmick reel projected behind a vaudeville act that would appear to interact with the activities taking place on the stage. Later, McCay would create a live-action introduction scene for the film to stand on its own as a theatrical release. A sequel to Gertie the Dinosaur, Gertie on Tour, was planned but never realized.

While the figure at Disney’s Hollywood Studios appears to be very stoic, the real Gertie was much more childlike. Throughout the short, the long-necked dinosaur performs tricks like bowing on command, launching a mammoth into a nearby lake, throwing boulders, and taking long drinks of water. She enjoys pumpkins, is easily distracted by flying creatures, and cries when her feelings get hurt.

The other space in history occupied by Gertie is the architectural movement known as California Crazy. While novelty construction, that is large structures built to resemble an animal or inanimate object, had been taking place all over the globe since the 18th Century, the explosion of the art form really took off in California during the 1920s through 1940s. The idea was to catch the eye of the passing motorist and draw them in to your restaurant, attraction, gas station, or the like. For some it was very transparent, the large hamburger selling hamburgers, for others it was more in the name, like the brown derby of The Hollywood Brown Derby. The style faded over time, but Gertie is a prime example of what roadside architecture could resemble during the era.

Gertie is a classic example of Walt’s idea of a weenie, the idea of creating something that would be a visual magnet to guests and draw them further into a land or location. The concept comes straight out of the California crazy building boom, and Gertie comes straight out of the annals of animation history. If you ask me, Gertie is almost a perfect summation of a time when the lights of Hollywood never seemed to dim, and she has definitely earned her place in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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