The process of gastrulation is a pivotal step in the formation of the vertebrate body plan. The primary function of gastrulation is the correct placement of precursor tissues for subsequent morphogenesis. There is now mounting evidence that the body plan is established through inductive interactions between germ layer tissues and by the global patterning activity emanating from embryonic organizers. An increasing number of mouse mutants have been described that have gastrulation defects, providing important insights into the molecular mechanisms that regulate this complex process. In this review, we explore the mouse embryo before and during gastrulation, highlighting its similarities with other vertebrate embryos and its unique characteristics.