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Medium Shift Gag
So you're watching your favorite Saturday Morning Cartoon, all the bright and colorful characters are bouncing across the screen, and... oh hey, one of them is a puppet now. Or a clay-animated doll. Or a stop-motion figurine. Or a guy in a purposely bad costume.

This is the Medium Shift Gag, a joke that plays on the audience's expectations for a show to keep to a certain medium, but catches them by surprise when suddenly the world they've been witnessing is viewed through a strange and different new light, if only momentarily.

Usually Makes Just as Much Sense in Context. Differs from Medium Blending, which usually involves two or more different media constantly mixing together in the same work, while a medium shift gag involves a quick and abrupt change that's Played for Laughs.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • FLCL:
    • In two of the anime episodes, the art suddenly changes to manga style for a while.
    • There is also the scene where it shifts to South Park style animation for Amarao's haircut.

    Comic Books 
  • The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers decide to go without smoking dope to see how it feels, and as they sit around a table and the effects wear off, the strip goes from pen & ink to photographs of people made up to look like them. They get bored very quickly and revert to their old selves.

    Film 
  • Better Off Dead has a couple of gag sequences in clay animation, representing Lloyd Dobler's bizarre daydreams about dancing hamburgers and so forth.
  • In The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, after the Heart of Gold uses the infinite improbability drive, everything and everyone in the ship briefly turns into yarn. The actors are all replaced by stop-motion yarn figures for this gag.
  • In Horton Hears a Who!, the previously All-CGI Cartoon briefly shifts into more traditional 2D animesque animation as Horton imagines himself as a ninja sworn to protect the tiny world on the clover and take it to Mount Nool.
  • Stay Tuned: Roy and Helen are Trapped in TV Land; at one point they're in a cartoon as mice (in a sequence directed by Chuck Jones).
  • When Jeff recounts the legend of Cthulhu in The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu it switched to a comic-book style animation.
  • In Big Man Japan, during the final fight scene, live action and realistic but very strange CGI shifts into what looks like a Power Rangers knock-off. The deadly monster becomes a goofy guy in a red suit. This can be interpreted as the protagonist's fevered visions before death or something even stranger.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Community has had several instances of this:
    • "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" was done entirely in stop motion animation to go along with Abed's breakdown.
    • In "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism", when Jeff and Shirley get into a fight over foosball, their anger is expressed via an abrupt shift to an animesque cartoon sequence.
    • In "Digital Estate Planning", most of the action is on 8-bit avatars of the characters as they play a video game.
    • In "Intro to Felt Surrogacy" about half the scenes have the main characters as muppets, since the Study Group is recounting a story via puppet-therapy.
    • "G.I. Jeff" is mostly animated in a dated, low-quality fashion that fits the episode's title- with little interludes of stop animation from fake G.I. Joe action figures.
  • Fringe did this unexpectedly. In one of the latest episodes of Season 3, it turned into a cartoon... because they couldn't get William Bell's actor to show up.
    • Leonard Nimoy, for the record.
  • One episode of Home Improvement had a Dream Sequence done in clay animation.
  • Non-joke version (sort of) in Life On Mars, with a brief sequence of Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt as stop motion characters in a Camberwick Green sequence caused by the drugs Sam Tyler was being fed while in his coma.
  • In My Name Is Earl, Randy was given some drugs and saw the world in clay animation.
  • The full version of the musical number "Tongue Tied" from Red Dwarf includes a clay-animated sequence.
    • "Back in the Red, Part 3" sees the crew trying to escape a computer simulation. On pulling it off, they end up in the claymation screen saver for a time.
  • During the period it was part of Saturday Night Live, this was a feature of "TV Funhouse". More recently, one of the Digital Shorts had the characters from "TV Funhouse" segment "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" transformed into live-action versions of themselves.
  • Farscape did an episode where Crichton started hallucinating everything happening in a Looney Tunes Coyote and Road Runner type of cartoon.
  • Black Books at one point has all the characters turn into puppets. One DVD extra has a "mini-series" made completely of these puppets.

    Webcomics 
  • In Hoofstuck, when Pinkie Pie agrees to answer the CMC's questions, the picture turns into a tumblr-style "Ask A Pony" image, with textboxes. When Fluttershy retreats into her imagination, the whole comic shifts into a black-and-white Problem Sleuth homage, with Fluttersleuth engaging in some absurd puzzle solving on the side.

    Web Original 
  • Aside from an animated title sequence, The Cartoon Man is entirely live action for its first half hour, with all "cartoon" elements being portrayed with cheesy physical effects. Then suddenly, Roy removes his sunglasses to reveal a pair of 2-D animated eyes. This begins the use of animated effects throughout the movie's last act and the sequel.

    Western Animation 
  • Chowder occasionally cuts to stop motion or puppetry for brief moments. One episode had a dancing vminotaur baby in Conspicuous CG, whose appearance freaked out the other characters out in an In-Universe example of the Uncanny Valley effect.
  • Family Guy:
    • In the "Road to the Multiverse" episode, Brian and Stewie find themselves in a dimension where they are a live-action dog and baby, and instead of commenting on it, they merely state that the universe scares them, and they immediately leave.
    • An earlier example occurs when Peter turns live action during a drug-induced Freak Out.
    • The Star Wars episodes all have this.
  • The punchline of the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Rabbit Hood" is that Robin Hood has been MIA for most of the film, and when he finally appears, it's live-action footage of Errol Flynn from The Adventures of Robin Hood. A dumbfounded Bugs comments, "That's silly, it couldn't be him!"
  • The Adventures Of Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius/The Fairly Oddparents crossover episodes had fun with this. In the second, one character jumped back and forth between CGI and 2D animated "worlds", shouting, "I'm bulgy! Now I'm flat! I'm bulgy! I'm flat!"
    • The Fairly Odd Parents episode "Channel Chasers", though mostly in the show's normal 2D animation (and full of Art Shifts, given the Trapped in TV Land plot), features a brief segment where the characters appear on a preschool TV show, turning them into Sesame Street-style Muppets.
    Cosmo: I've never felt more alive! ...Get it? "Felt?"
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one segment in the 2010 Christmas Episode, everybody in Maggie's dream was a Muppet-like "Fluppet" instead of a cartoon character, with the exception of special live-action guest Katy Perry.
    • In one Halloween episode, Homer entered "the third dimension" and became CGI 3D, as did Bart when he went into that dimension to rescue Homer.
    • Another Halloween Episode had Bart and Lisa Trapped in TV Land, at one point interrupting Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.
    • One episode had the opening re-enacted by live actors (actually a promo for Sky1).
    • One Couch Gag was a parody of the Breaking Bad opening, being watched by a live-action Walt and Jesse.
    • Another Couch Gag was done in Stop Motion by the team behind Robot Chicken.
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants:
    • The show occasionally shifts from a cartoon to a cheap puppet show. One episode in particular is "Pressure", in which SpongeBob, Patrick, Mr. Krabs, Squidward and Sandy all leave the ocean, and when they arrive on dry land...they are lousy toys or models propped up as puppets. The only exception, of which, is Squidward, whose puppet looks disturbingly like the actual Squidward.
    • The multiple cuts to an extreme close-up of a deer fly in "Wormy".
    • A slightly disturbing example from "Krabs in Love":
    Mr. Krabs: Mrs. Puff? Aw, she's married.
    SpongeBob: Oh no, Mr. Krabs, she's single.
    Mr. Krabs: Then what happened to Mr. Puff?
    [cut to someone turning on a lamp made out of a pufferfish]
    SpongeBob: She doesn't like to talk about it.
    • In "SpongeGuard on Duty", SpongeBob imagines being a lifeguard, represented by live-action footage of a person in a SpongeBob mascot costume standing in a lifeguard tower.
    • There's also the classic scene in which Squidward wonders who was flickering the lights throughout an episode, and the camera shifts to see Nosferatu turning the lights on and off.
    "Nosferatu!"
  • One episode of South Park featured a scene reshot in flashy CGI, to make fun of George Lucas adding CGI effects to the original Star Wars trilogy.
    • The episode "I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining" is presented as a documentary about the boy's disastrous field trip. At one point a disclamier card introduces a Dramatization of events and suddenly Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny are live adult actors in a real boat filmed on a real lake.
  • There was an episode of Arthur that had South Park-style animation done for a segment.
  • In the closing credits of an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Hoss Delgado wakes up as a live action puppet in a Cartoon Network dumpster.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Pinkie Pie's imagination is in felt animation.
    • In the episode "Pinkie Pride", Cheese Sandwich's rubber chicken Boneless and Pinkie's pet alligator Gummy are briefly rendered in live-action during a musical number.
  • The Tex Avery MGM cartoon Lucky Ducky has a scene where two hunters chase a duckling past a sign, and suddenly find themselves in black and white. Doubling back, they notice that the sign reads "Technicolor ends here".
  • Codename: Kids Next Door did this on more than one occasion, with notable examples being the "murder mystery" episode where a "dramatization" of the crime is shown with a fat live-action man playing the part of Numbuh 3's sister and the series finale.
  • Phineas and Ferb did this in an episode set in the Stone Age, where cutaways to the show's creators (in deliberately choppy photoanimation) explained what was going on.


Matchlight Danger RevelationZany CartoonMouse Hole
Marquee Alter EgoFilm TropesThe Mockbuster
Medium BlendingAnimation TropesMime and Music-Only Cartoon
Made of ExplodiumRule of FunnyMundane Wish
Meatgrinder SurgeryComedy TropesMen Are Uncultured

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