Animation of all kinds has always been essential in helping to bring dinosaurs back to life on screens big and small. In the month where we celebrate everyone’s favorite prehistoric creatures, let’s take a look at a small sample of the wide world of animated dinos.
Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)
Gertie, the star of legendary animator and comics creator Winsor McCay‘s short film, is both the first animated dinosaur and one of the earliest examples of true character animation. The film was originally presented as part of a live vaudeville act. McCay would stand off to one side of the screen and give commands that Gertie would obey – or not, depending on her mood. At a time when most animation was more about the novelty of drawings that could move than characters behaving believably, a dinosaur who could act distracted, sad, and anxious was a major achievement.
The Lost World (1925)
Long before the Jurassic Park sequel or the low budget 1960 remake featuring lizards with stuff on them, there was this silent film. Like many other dinosaur stories, the movie and the book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that it’s based on use the plot device of modern day explorers discovering a land where prehistoric creatures still survive. For decades, live action films relied on the painstaking process of stop motion animation to create dinosaurs to menace their casts. The dinosaurs seen here are animated by stop motion pioneer Willis O’Brien, who would go on to create more dinos and a giant ape for the original King Kong. Audiences of the 1920s had never seen anything like it and The Lost World established dinosaurs as silver screen powerhouses.
“Rite of Spring” from Fantasia (1940)
This Disney film that mixes animation and classical music takes Igor Stravinsky’s ballet of early Russian rituals celebrating the coming spring and transforms it into a tale of the history of life on Earth before humanity. Though we also see single celled organisms evolving into more complex life forms and sea creatures making the transition to land, the best remembered portion of this sequence shows the time of the dinosaurs. It’s no longer the scientifically accurate work it was at the time – dinosaurs who never existed at the same time do battle, tails aplenty drag on the ground, and an overheated climate is blamed for the dinos’ demise. But it remains a stunning piece of animation, particularly this climactic battle between a tyrannosaur and a stegosaur.
One Million Years B.C. (1966)
Accurate paleontology takes a back seat and then jumps out the window as cavemen battle dinosaurs in this Hammer Film Productions remake of the original 1940 film. Aside from the movie debut of Raquel Welch, this film is mostly notable for the stop motion dinosaurs animated by monster master Ray Harryhausen. Accurate or not, the dinosaurs are gorgeously animated, a perfect example of Harryhausen’s inimitable talents.
The Land Before Time (1988)
Before it developed a bad case of sequelitis, The Land Before Time was a single animated film from director Don Bluth. Rather than following the titanic adult dinosaurs, the story is focused on their almost impossibly tiny offspring, chiefly a baby brontosaurus named Littlefoot. As any child of the 80s knows, Littlefoot’s mother dies protecting him from a vicious Tyrannosaurus and Littlefoot is left to lead a band of young dinosaurs to a legendary land of plenty.
Jurassic Park (1993)
This was a game changer, a film that had an immeasurable impact on movie special effects and the depiction of dinosaurs onscreen. The dinosaur denizens of the park were actually created using a combination of animatronic dinosaurs created by Stan Winston and state of the art computer animation from Industrial Light and Magic. The plot may be predictable – only the characters in the film were shocked that the dinosaurs escaped and terrorized the parkgoers. But the effects were so amazing that audiences hardly cared and dinosaurs were once again a box office force to be reckoned with.
Toy Story (1995)
Rex, the main dinosaur in the Toy Story series, was partly inspired by Jurassic Park. The filmmakers wanted to populate Andy’s room with classic toys that would never seem dated. Dinosaurs were a perennial favorite, but the success of the Spielberg film meant that Andy absolutely had to have a dinosaur. The twist was that Rex is nervous, insecure, and conflict averse, the polar opposite of the fearsome predator he’s based on. Rex has enjoyed key roles in many of the Toy Story films and follow ups, including the short Partysaurus Rex.
Walking With Dinosaurs (1999)
The time and expense involved in creating realistic dinosaur animation means that TV dinos who can measure up to their cinematic counterparts are few and far between. But the rising capabilities and falling prices of computer animation have allowed recent television shows to better depict these beasts of ages past. The BBC miniseries Walking With Dinosaurs took a new approach to bringing paleontology to life, creating a dinosaur nature documentary. The series captured the public’s imagination and spawned numerous imitators.
Got your own favorite animated dinosaurs? Share them with us!