Created By: VictorDamazioJanuary 4, 2013 Last Edited By: VictorDamazioAugust 16, 2014

Animated Confusion

If a cartoon character is watching TV, how can you tell if the program is animated or live action?

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Trope
"And then in 1998, even a Saturday Morning Cartoon was made, based on Terrance and Phillip. Terrance and Phillip themselves supplied the voices. [...] The cartoon was such a huge success that it started to breed confusion over whether Terrance and Phillip were animated characters or real people."
Narrator, South Park, "Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow"

It is very common in many media works to have shows within them, but a little confusion can happen in drawn/animated works.

A cartoon character is watching TV, and the show is a news show, or a soap opera, or a game show, these shows will be considered live action since they generally are in real life, but they are still animated since the whole world is, the point is, for the audience, the show within a show is animated, however, for the characters, that show is live action, after all, it has real characters and the characters themselves sometimes appear in them.

But the real confusion is when a cartoon character is watching a cartoon, if everything in that world is animated, how can you tell if something there is live action or animated?

Ways to explain/avoid this trope:

- The cartoon inside a cartoon has stuff that can never happen in the "real world", like talking animals or cartoon physics.

- The cartoon inside a cartoon has an Art Shift, like western-styled cartoon characters watching a anime-styled cartoon.

- And also, use Medium Blending, like if the cartoon is CGI, the cartoon inside a cartoon is hand drawn.

- Or even use Medium Blending for live action, the world is animated, but when the characters are watching a live action show, it is really live action, is confusing to think how can live action media be filmed in an animated world.

- Recursive Canon is used, if cartoon characters are watching their own show, no matter if they say it's animation or live action, both are acceptable.

- Or just don't care, and have the characters expose if what they're watching is live action or animation.

Examples

Animated Films
  • 101 Dalmatians has the characters watching TV several times. Among the shows seen are an animated commercial drawn in the stylized manner of the time and an old Classic Disney Short (the Silly Symphony "Springtime") from the studio's rubber-hose period. Further differenciation of the TV images is done by making them Deliberately Monochrome.
  • At one point in Chicken Little, characters in a theater watch actual footage from an Indiana Jones movie. So not only are they watching something less cartoony than themselves, but also inhabitants of a World Of Funny Animals are watching human beings.
  • Subverted in Wall E where live-action videos are shown from the past, but it is explained that humans themselves became cartoonish as a result of living in outer space.

Webcomics
  • Rice Boy (and all the comics in Overside) is inhabited entirely by Cartoon Creatures and Machine Men. One of the Machine Men, named The One Electronic, has a monitor for a face. The images on T.O.E.'s face aren't drawn by Evan Dahm; instead, they're an assortment of photographs, panels from other comicbooks, and stills from live-action and animated films. They're all black-and-white, to distinguish them from the rest of the art (which is very colorful).

Western Animation
Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • January 4, 2013
    VictorDamazio
    Just waiting to know if the trope exists already or not, if it doesn't, then let's add examples.
  • January 4, 2013
    StarSword
    Here's a weird one.

    Western Animation:
    • One episode of Arthur medium blended live action footage from PBS' NOVA onto the characters' cartoon TV.
  • January 4, 2013
    NESBoy
    This should be a good page quote:

    "And then in 1998, even a Saturday Morning Cartoon was made, based on Terrance and Phillip. Terrance and Phillip themselves supplied the voices. [...] The cartoon was such a huge success that it started to breed confusion over whether Terrance and Phillip were animated characters or real people."
    Narrator, South Park, "Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow"
  • January 4, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In a Treehouse Of Horror episode of The Simpsons the kids get Trapped In TV Land an are briefly on a live-action Live With Regis And Kathie Lee
  • January 4, 2013
    NESBoy
    Yeah, and Itchy and Scratchy followed them there too.
  • January 5, 2013
    TonyG
  • January 5, 2013
    McKathlin
    Film - Animated
  • January 25, 2013
    robinjohnson
    Check the spelling of "character" throughout.

    • Another Simpsons example: in one short, the Simpsons had a brief live-action clip of George HW Bush showing on their TV screen for the purposes of a Take That:
      Bush: We're going to strengthen the American Family - to make them more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons!
      Bart: Hey, we're like the Waltons! We're praying for an end to the depression too.
  • January 25, 2013
    VictorDamazio
    ^ Thanks
  • January 25, 2013
    MetaFour
    I'll leave it up to the OP to decide if this fits:

    Webcomics
    • Rice Boy (and all the comics in Overside) is inhabited entirely by Cartoon Creatures and Machine Men. One of the Machine Men, named The One Electronic, has a monitor for a face. The images on T.O.E.'s face aren't drawn by Evan Dahm; instead, they're an assortment of photographs, panels from other comicbooks, and stills from live-action and animated films. They're all black-and-white, to distinguish them from the rest of the art (which is very colorful).
  • January 25, 2013
    TonyG
    • In Lilo And Stitch, there is a live-action clip playing on a TV at one point.
    • When The Angry Beavers watch a B-movie on TV, it is drawn in a more realistic style and in black and white. Things get interesting in the Halloween Episode, where they meet some of the actors from the movies, still drawn in the same style and in black and white.
  • February 5, 2013
    Random888
    • The phone segment at the end of The Magic School Bus episodes features the show's "producer" answering questions about what could and couldn't really happen. The producer is also a cartoon character (voiced by Malcolm-Jamal Warner) and the show is apparently live-action within his universe. For example, we sometimes we see him on the "set" or see the characters represented as actors.
  • February 7, 2013
    TonyG
    On Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012, Leonardo watches Space Heroes, a cartoon based on Star Trek The Animated Series, done in the same Limited Animation style, in contrast to the Animesque CGI used for the main action.
  • February 8, 2013
    MarkKB
    ^^^ In the Lilo & Stitch example, the clip is from the B-film monster flick Earth Vs. The Spider. (Lilo is shown later to have a great fascination with these kinds of movies.)
  • April 20, 2013
    Noah1
  • April 20, 2013
    WackyMeetsPractical
    If I may add to the Simpsons example about Itchy and Scratchy. Itchy And Scratchy is clearly a cartoon in the Simpsons universe, as animators and voice actors are shown in some episodes of the show, yet IIRC, in at least one episode (Not a Treehouse of Terror), they make a live action appearance on a parody of Hollywood Squares alongside Homer Simpson and other 'real' people.
  • April 22, 2013
    grapesandmilk
    • Beavis And Butthead watch live-action music videos.
    • Subverted in Wall E where live-action videos are shown from the past, but it is explained that humans themselves became cartoonish as a result of living in outer space.
  • August 10, 2014
    VictorDamazio
    Changed the name to Animated Confusion, is it better?
  • August 10, 2014
    VictorDamazio
    Ah, I think we're ready for hats.
  • August 10, 2014
    BaffleBlend
  • August 15, 2014
    hbi2k
    Several of the included examples have no confusion. For example, in Beavis and Butthead, at no point does the viewer wonder if the music videos are supposed to be cartoons or live-action in-universe.
  • August 15, 2014
    bejjinks
    I've been uncertain about this trope but I just thought of an idea and wonder how it fits. A cartoon is watching a cartoon on t.v. when the character in the t.v. reaches out of the t.v. to slap the cartoon that's watching.
  • August 15, 2014
    randomsurfer
    ^Television Portal.

    In an episode of The Simpsons Bart waches a dinosaur-themed sitcom on TV, but it is unclear whether it is animated or live action - except that the scene was a Take That at Dinosaurs, an actual live action dinosaur-themed sitcom.
  • August 16, 2014
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • The hamster Rhino has watched the heroic dog Bolt on TV so much that he instantly recognizes Bolt upon meeting him in person.
    • Fred Flintstone of The Flintstones once watched a fight on his television: two cartoon cavemen in a boxing ring clubbing each other. Since people in Fred's day and age seem to be inordinately durable, this fight will take a while to determine a winner.
    • Dale the chipmunk of Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers enjoys watching the TV show "Flash The Wonder Dog." Or he did, until he met Flash in person and found him to be weak and fearful.
  • August 16, 2014
    TonyG
    ^None of these examples address this trope, which is about how an animated Show Within A Show is differentiated from the main animated show. This is not animated characters watching TV, which is just People Sitting On Chairs.

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