Disney Details: Dinosaur Gertie at Hollywood Studios
Dinosaur Gertie’s Ice Cream of Extinction is an awesome Walt Disney World ice cream stand, but it’s also so much more. It’s one of the cool details at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that help make the park special, and is seemingly out of place but fits perfectly.
The park catches a lot of flak and is often ranked as the #3 or #4 park by most Walt Disney World fans, but there are some bright spots despite its many shortcomings. Today we’ll take a look at one such bright spot, and one of my favorite details of the park…that is, if a huge apatosaurus can be considered a detail.
I’ve captured dozens of photos of Dinosaur Gertie over the years, so I thought it would be fun to share a tribute post with some information about Gertie, plus photos and commentary. Since Dinosaur Gertie’s only serves regular soft serve ice cream, a full blown restaurant review doesn’t seem appropriate.
Why do I like Dinosaur Gertie so much? If I had to rank my top 10 favorite things on earth, the list would include dinosaurs and ice cream (and I guess things like family, friends, mashed potatoes, and the other essentials). As a dinosaur shaped ice cream stand, Dinosaur Gertie nails two of ten, and qualifies as one of the most awesome places.
Unfortunately, it’s just a little too awesome. Much like the sinkhole that (allegedly) closed Horizons, prevented Beastly Kingdom from being built, precluded the building of a 5th gate, stopped Country Bear Christmas from running, and ate the corpse of Jimmy Hoffa, the levels of awesomeness produced by an operating Dinosaur Gertie’s Ice Cream of Extinction are dangerous.
It’s now only permitted to be open a few days each year to keep these contagious levels of awesome in check. Kudos to Disney for adhering to the #1 Key to the Kingdom: safety. It would be an awful thing if Disney actually operated its prominently located establishments rather than just letting them sit, unused, most of the year.
At one time, the “Ice Cream of Extinction” in the name was literal. Walt Disney World served rare types of ice cream from around the world at Dinosaur Gertie’s. I don’t recall ever experiencing this firsthand, and the practice sadly ended by the mid-1990s.
Today, when open, Dinosaur Gertie’s is basically just a place to get soft serve ice cream and a few other items. I’m a sucker for soft serve ice cream, so that’s enough for me. (Although I wouldn’t complain about a return to something more ambitious…perhaps some flavor swirl ice cream?!)
For those who want to know more about Dinosaur Gertie, we’ve got a little background for you, as this is actually a Walt Disney World snack stand with a lot of history.
Dinosaur Gertie’s Ice Cream of Extinction was an opening day ice cream stand at the Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, and aesthetically looked virtually identical to how it looks today, except Gertie than had letters spelling “Ice Cream” standing in the snow on her back at that time.
The ice cream stand is in the style of California Crazy architecture, which was an eye-catching and tacky style of larger than life objects set up on roadsides in California attempting to lure travelers to stop. These designs were a unique form of marketing and commercialism that never really caught on outside of the West Coast.
Most of these stands were shaped like animals and were places to grab fast food from mom and pop establishments in the era before chain restaurants. Los Angeles historian Jim Heimann is the leading authority on these, and his book California Crazy & Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture is a fascinating look hundreds of these long-forgotten stands.
We’ve actually visited some remaining vestiges of California Crazy architecture, including the Cabazon Dinosaurs outside of Palm Springs. (That’s my photo of them above.)
In addition to being particularly relevant to the topic at hand, the Cabazon Dinosaurs also have a bewildering and somewhat unbelievable backstory. But I digress…
The dinosaur is named “Gertie” as a tribute to trailblazing animator Winsor McCay. Gertie the Dinosaur was his 1914 animated short film that McCay used before live audiences as an interactive part of his vaudeville act. The film was only about 5 minutes long, but it contained over 10,000 drawings all done by McCay, by hand! McCay would stand to the side of the screen, while the childlike
Gertie did tricks seemingly at his command. This was one of McCay’s first animated films, and was revolutionary for its time. It’s widely cited as an inspiration for the next generation of animators, including Walt Disney, as it was one of the first animals depicted in animation with personality.
Personally, I think it’s pretty cool that Disney chose to use this ice cream stand as a tribute to McCay. (It also works to use a dinosaur due to the mostly discredited theory that an ice age led to the extinction of dinosaurs.)
Even before it was called Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Studios has always drawn heavily on Californian architecture, so the California Crazy style would’ve fit regardless of what type of animal or object this stand was.
By designing it as Gertie, it doubly fits into the landscape of the park that’s all about Hollywood, as the architecture fits and it serves as a way to introduce guests to someone long forgotten by most, but who played in pioneering role in animation.
Most guests probably quickly pass by the placard explaining the inspiration for Dinosaur Gertie, but it’s a nice touch for those who slow down to read it. As is the case with so much of Walt Disney World, those who savor the details are rewarded accordingly.
Another interesting touch that I didn’t notice for the longest time when going through this area is that there are Gertie tracks leading into Echo Lake!
They’re fairly obvious, but for some reason it took me the longest time to see them. I guess sometimes the most clever Disney details hide in plain sight.
What’s most interesting to me is how well Disney accomplished this style of architecture that is admittedly tacky. Businesses that embraced California Crazy were typically mom and pop shops that were decidedly low budget. In other words, a far cry from Walt Disney World.
When built, California Crazy stands didn’t have a whole lot of artistic merit, and were largely viewed pejoratively. Present day historians mostly look back on them with an interest in kitschy Americana and the cultural oddities that have grown in California. They’re an interesting snapshot of United States history.
Some of those enamored with California Crazy likely exist within the halls of Imagineering given that they’ve returned to the idea a couple of times. Decades later when building Disney’s California Adventure, Imagineering again incorporated California Crazy into a park.
The Route 66 area of the park in Paradise Pier featured its own large dinosaur (Dinosaur Jack’s Sunglass Shack) and a giant cheeseburger (Burger Invasion, a McDonald’s). The reaction to that use of California Crazy was widely critiqued and outright rejected by fans, and a little over 5 years after the park opened, it was gone.
Likewise, when Disney incorporated a roadside carnival into Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the concept was similarly met with scorn by fans, and continues to this day to be the most divisive land in any United States Disney theme park.
I am unabashed in my hatred for Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama, which ostensibly stands in sharp contrast with my love of dinosaurs. Unfortunately, that land is substantively meritless, as well as being overly cynical and gritty for a Disney theme park. That’s just the beginning of the critical distinctions between it and Dinosaur Gertie.
Dinosaur Gertie succeeds while these other lands have failed in part because it manages to embrace an inherently tacky style in isolation and at a high quality of execution. More importantly, because it’s an idealized and “best case” take on California Crazy. Comparing Dinosaur Gertie to New Orleans Square would be a strong comparison, but the idea is sort of the same.
Had Disney gone for a wholly authentic portrayal of New Orleans, it likely would not have been as well received by guests. New Orleans is a beautiful place, but it also has sharp contrasts to that beauty. Most of Disney’s lands that use real world inspiration do this to some degree or another. That’s why Disney is often described pejoratively as being a “fantasyland” or a sanitized version of reality. Warts and all is great in the real world, but arguably not so much in an escapist environment.
In any case, Dinosaur Gertie presents an idealized version of California Crazy in much of the same way that other successful aspects of the parks convey their theme in thoughtful, detailed, and even sometimes insightful ways. They add to the body of work from which they draw inspiration, rather than simply ripping it off, or presenting a dumbed down take on it.
Rather than presenting a cartoonish and cheeky version of California Crazy (as was the case with Route 66), Dinosaur Gertie would probably be the nicest and most dignified version of California Crazy ever built if it were a real world establish. Just comparing Dinosaur Gertie and Dinosaur Jack side by side should demonstrate that. At least that’s my theory. Like I said at the outset, I love dinosaurs and ice cream, so pretty much any establishment that combines these two things is bound to receive praise from me.
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Do you remember what Dinosaur Gertie served back in the day? Do you have any interesting stories about Gertie? Do you agree that this is one of the coolest “details” of the Studios, or do you think it’s just an ordinary dino? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!
Thank you thank you for re-airing (?) this salute to the amazing Gertie!! I have loved her from the moment I first saw her in 1989 and am always trying to snap a picture that does her magnificence justice. I adore getting ice cream there. I love seeing her peak out through the foliage. I remember a few years back seeing her footprints into Echo Lake (she must go in there after the park closes!)! I panicked that she would be cast to the side when Star Wars took over, but so far so good! Thanks again for sharing your wonderful pictures of a true Disney icon! â¤
This was a fun and kind of escapist read! It certainly took me straight back to HW so thanks for that. : )
I wanted to mention the dinosaur area of Animal Kingdom. I like it for the nostalgia and the fun shop they have. One of my fondest memories is riding Triceratops Spin at night (the lights there are so pretty!) while enjoying the dance party going on at the same time. My daughters LOVE the land. They like the cheesy games, the face paint, and the rollercoaster (forget the name) is one of their favorite rides in all of WDW. I guess they are too young to recognize any “grittiness”. Maybe this area can be appreciated better by younger Disney fans.
I remember having ice cream from Gertie’s back in 1992, my first trip to WDW. At that time I had a purple colored ice pop… I was told it had some coating on it that would slow down the melting.. I’m not sure how true this is since I was a very gullible six year old. I love going to Gertie just because I can still remember that very hot July day in 1992, having ice cream from a dinosaur… thought it was cool then and still do.
Getting ice cream from a dinosaur will *always* be cool, I assure you! 😉
I went to see Gertie at Christmas time. Took quite a few photos of Gertie in her Christmas finery. The line was too long to get a snack. Didn’t know that she was only open occasionally. Would have made the family wait or get in line with me. Hopefully she will be there in all her glory when the park reopens.
Gertie is one of the few things I vividly remember about visiting Disney as a kid in the late 80s early 90s. Of course we got the mickey head ice creams there…But my 5 or 6 year old brain remembered Gertie, and Indy and the Muppets…I can’t wait til my trip in February 🙂
I love this post!! It’s so Tom…and that’s why I keep reading. Your hilarious personality comes through like a someone wearing a figment hat in a crowd of suits.
“Hilarious personality”? Clearly you are reading a different blog than this one!
Seems kind of silly in a park in Florida to have a refreshment stand that sells cold treats closed so often. That said, the past few times I’ve been there it was open. I always liked Gertie, even though I thought it was silly and out of place at first, but when I learned more about why it’s there and how it works into the theme of the park, I loved it. I also like how it’s used as somewhat of a transition to blend the Hollywood Blvd into the action/adventure section of the park without it being a stark line.
Are you visiting during Star Wars Weekends, by chance? That’s the only time we’ve seen it open. Even during other busy or hot times, it hasn’t been open. Maybe it’s just coincidence that it has been open during SWW while we’ve been there…who knows.
Hmmm, we were last there the week before Christmas (we went home on the 26th, 2011), so I guess those crowds warranted opening it. Prior to that, we were there in early October, 2007 (we envy your frequent trips). I remember wanting to get something there, but we were worried that the ice cream would melt too fast, an important consideration with a 1 and 5 year old!
I wonder whether Dinosaur Jack was designed by the same person/people who worked on DinoLand U.S.A.? The Primeval Whirl, particularly, seems to have the same sort of style. I adore a lot of DinoLand, personally, but something about the roadside-attraction rides just doesn’t play well with everything else and doesn’t represent the story of the land the way it should. The color schemes feel wrong and the style is off in just the same way — too cartoonish, too garish, not idealized enough, not “classic” the way Gertie is.
Loved the article and of course the beautiful photos!
Pixar has a movie in the works that is about a dinosaur that looks a lot like Gertie. I’m not sure if it is related but it is a Apotosaurus. It was referenced in monsters university.
My wife and I really enjoy Gertie and the tribute she is to Winsor McCay, as well as her example of California Crazy. But then, we are probably some of the few people who count DHS among our favorite Disney parks. Not because it is so big, or filled with the most amazing rides or shows, but because of other reasons. Certainly we enjoy the shows like Indy, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Muppets 3D and especially Fantasmic, and rides like The Great Movie Ride, Rockin’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Star Tours II and our new favorite Toy Story Midway Mania. There are also some great restaurants here, including the Hollywood Brown Derby and our personal favorite, the 50’s Primetime Cafe. It is as much a show as it is a great place to eat. You could even call it dinner theater! But mostly, we enjoy the atmosphere and feeling of place when we step through the gates and into the 40’s and 50’s golden movie era. The experience is what we enjoy, just soaking up the atmosphere, the beautifully scaled and detailed buildings and little touches everywhere. That is also why we think that the modern styled sorcerers hat is a blight on an otherwise beautifully themed park.
We also think that one element that makes this park so amazing is the incredible “Citizens of Hollywood” improv players. They are everywhere throughout the park and we have spent many happy hours enjoying their audience participation shows. These actors and actresses are very, very talented, and have a large repertoire of 20-30 minute shows that involve park visitors to hilarious results. We especially love their “Hollywood’s Funniest Citizen”, “Hollywood Matchmaker” and “Department of Sanitation” sketches. Their ad-libbing abilities are off the charts both in the sketches and just in their on the street interactions with the guests, and they obviously love their roles. Each character is fully realized, with talents to match their personalities. Try getting into a Shakespeare quoting contest with “Veronica Throckmorton” or asking “Jack Diamond” to show you a magic trick! So many people just pass them by on their way to the next big ride or attraction, but we think they are one of the things that make this park a standout for us. And don’t forget the Osborne Family Lights at Christmas! We think they’re one of the most incredible things Disney does, and a must-do every time we visit the parks in November or December. Which we will be doing again this year! Woo Hoo!
Anyway, just my two cents worth. Love your site, and especially some of your most current posts focusing on one particular thing, like the Tiki Room and Gertie. Thanks for keeping the fires burning for those of us who can’t get down to “The World” nearly as often as we would like. My wife and I really enjoy your artistic photography and passion for all things Disney. Keep up the great work!
Couldn’t agree more with this comment. I really do love DHS!
So good to hear my family aren’t alone in our adoration of this oft-misjudged little gem. (That may need a slight polish, but my love for it never will)
As I always say – there’s a reason it’s called the GREAT Movie ride 🙂
Agreed Kelly, we think that it is truly the GREAT Movie Ride! Some may think it a little schmaltzy or cheesy, but we think it’s wonderful! From the “previews” in the waiting queue, to the great “guides” who pour their hearts into every trip through the attraction (and our family has enjoyed interacting with some great ones over the years), and the finale which always “gets” me, we adore this attraction. Maybe we love this park so much because we love movies so much. I don’t know. But we always thoroughly enjoy any time spent time traveling to the Hollywood of the past here!
Wayne, I too am a great fan of the strolling players, even though they inadvertently bring to mind the tragic demise of Adventurers Club,..
Rowrow, one of my deepest regrets is never having experienced the Adventurers Club. I find, without fail that everyone who has ever visited it holds very fond memories. If the “Citizens of Hollywood” are any indication, we missed something truly special.
I loved the Adventurer Club! The characters there as well as the interior design will still be missed!
I’m not sure if this has ever been open when we’ve been in the parks. I haven’t looked closely – I like soft serve, but I think there are better uses of my calories on vacation (Starring Rolls cupcakes come to mind.)
I’d argue with one point in the article – I don’t think Dinoland in AK is “divisive”. I don’t know anyone who likes it!
Back when I was in the college program at Disney I used to love going there for cheesecake on a stick. Man I wish I could have one right now!
Great article – Gertie is definitely one of my favorite things in DHS (admittedly, it’s DHS, so that’s not saying much).
I think the only way “there’s hope for Chester and Hester’s Dinorama” is if the Tiki Room arsonist is able to work their magic there, and then salt the earth so they can never rebuild.
I remember pointing out those footsteps to my family when I was a kid in the mid-90’s….and that’s when my obsession with the details of Disney began…lol.
If you love the California Crazy architecture, the next time you are in NJ you need to stop by and see “Lucy The Elephant” in a little town outside of Atlantic City called Margate. You’d be fascinated by her history!
I love the fact that Gertie is there as a tribute to McCay’s early animation, it would be a further nice touch if Disney could perhaps pop a segment of the cartoon into the park somewhere close by, even a short loop would be cool.
I think it’s only ever been open twice in all the times we’ve visited from the UK, neither of these when it was 95 degrees and we were gasping our way along the sun-baked concrete but at least it is still there.
Fabulous photos as always, and wow what a Top 5 list, you need to do us a whole top 20.
Now if Gerties sold ice cream *and* mashed potatoes…
It would be cool to show the video in the park somewhere, but I’d bet 99% of park guests wouldn’t care. Even the old Mickey Mouse cartoons don’t draw many people, and that’s Mickey Mouse!
As for a Top 20 list…the world isn’t ready for that!
The world might not be, but the readers of this blog certainly are! =D
I saw Steam Boat Willie for the first time on a TV in the lobby of Animal Kingdom Lodge a few years ago. I thought ti was awesome and I wish they would have more of this type of stuff around the parks. (They used to ahve Donald Duck in the line for the Epcot character meet & greet, but that and Main Street are about it.)
Thanks for this story and the explanation of why she is there and what she represents! I could not for the life of me put together a scenario in my mind that explained her existence… Looking forward to meeting Gertie in person very soon!
Gertie IS awesome. Period.
We visit her every single time we are there without fail.
If she is closed and we can’t get ice cream – we still stand and gaze at her and jump in her footsteps. (Then refuse ice cream anywhere else for a few hours in protest that ‘We Love Gert’)
LOVE this post!! Would love to see more like it!
Thanks! I’ll keep that in mind. I’m always open to topic suggestions!
Not sure what to think about your top 5. Disney doesn’t even make the list?
Beef jerky OBVIOUSLY tops Disney. PERIOD.
It’s not more concerning that ALF ranks higher on the list than my wife?
Never mind, silly question, of course everyone loves ALF more than their spouse!!! 😉
I love this post so much I want to marry it and have its ice-cream loving prehistoric babies.