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Medium-Shift Gag

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Who looks like a puppet when out of the sea?

Peter: Believe me Chris, you don't wanna mess with drugs; I tried them once, big mistake! Things got way too real.
[cut to a flashback of a live-action Peter Griffin]
Peter: Holy crap I am freaking out!
Family Guy (normally an animated show)

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.

Compare Fisher Kingdom.


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    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.
  • Claymation is used as a form of censorship in the Magician's Academy anime adaptation, also not appearing in the DVD.
  • Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt: Whenever a ghost is killed, it switches to a live action shot of a paper mache model of the ghost exploding. Also there is a blink and you miss it scene in the beach episode where the animation shifts to South Park for a quick scene.

    Asian Animation 
  • Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: In episode 64, Paddi is trapped in a giant can by Wolffy and ticks him off by singing a song. Wolffy then gets angry, resulting in an Infernal Background that is clearly live-action as he goes to open up the can and grab Paddi out of it.

    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.
  • In Super Mario Adventures, when Mario and Luigi read the "Yoshi Language Series" book, the comic briefly swaps into a parody of a Dick and Jane-style educational textbook.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye #45 has a one-off panel of four of the Scavengers, where the usual art has been replaced with a photo of their real-life G1 toys in a field.

    Films — Animated 
  • Horton Hears a Who! (2008) does this twice. First, when Horton hears the yelp and wonders what could be on the speck, the resulting Imagine Spot is traditionally animated in a style resembling Dr. Seuss' illustrations. Later, the film briefly shifts from CGI 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, complete with Lip Lock.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth has Milo get distracted by this, reversing through the titular tollbooth back into live-action, then forward into animation repeatedly until the tollbooth admonishes him for holding up traffic.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Annie Hall has a brief animated Imagine Spot with Alvy and the Wicked Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, after he says that he always goes for the wrong woman.
  • Better Off Dead has gag sequences in both clay and regular animation, representing the teenaged protagonist's bizarre daydreams about dancing hamburgers and so forth.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), 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.
  • 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.
  • Dave Made a Maze: One of the many rooms in the maze turns all the human characters into paper bag puppets. Leaving the room turns them back into humans. The Minotaur can turn back at-will.
  • Kill Bill does this twice. The film switches to black and white for the fight scene between The Bride and the Crazy 88 (Done in order to avoid an NC-17 rating, according to director Quentin Tarantino) and switches to a comic-book style animation when showing the origin of crime boss O-Ren Ishii.

  • When Mark's tripping on DMT in Dead Men's Trousers, the text changes to a comic-strip for a page.
  • Liv in the Future: When Liv visits one of Alix's neighbors, the house's interior and occupants are presented as a screenshot from The Sims 3 with Liv as the only drawn element. She lampshades how bizarre the change in appearance is.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Afterparty: As part of its Genre Roulette premise, one episode is a surreal girl’s night out story told in 2D animation.
  • 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. An episode of Season 3 revolved around the characters using LSD to take a Journey to the Center of the Mind, which naturally involved a lot of Mind Screw. At one point they find William Bell in his office, at which point everything turns into a cartoon. Walter outright wonders why Bell is a cartoon, only for him to point out that he's now a cartoon as well. This also helped cover up that Bell's actor was too busy to appear in person.
  • One episode of Home Improvement had a Christmas Dream Sequence done in stop-motion animation reminiscent of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • 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.
  • In one episode of That '70s Show, the guys are discussing Scooby-Doo and they briefly appear as cartoon characters.
  • In the final episode of Two and a Half Men, Rose's account of what really happened to Charlie is presented as a CGI cartoon.

    Video Games 
  • The rabbit mascot of Nintendo Badge Arcade turns from a cartoon character into a realistic pink bunny when discussing the game's use of microtransactions ("You need real money to play. And by 'real', I mean this kind of real.")

    Web Animation 
  • Battle for Dream Island:
    • Used for an April Fools' Day prank, with live-action puppets.
    • Played for Drama in Battle for BFDI, where the rapidly-depleting budget causes the animation style to shift from the standard style to MS Paint, to papermation, to the actual storyboard, until Flower rectifies the chaos by donating the $50,000 she was given the episode prior.
  • Used in episode two and three of RWBY with the art direction taking a turn toward a more anime-esque style. The first when Ruby starts to fangirl over the other students weapons, the second occasion comes toward the end of the episode when Ruby and her sister, Yang, begin play-fighting (complete with Big Ball of Violence)

  • 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.
  • In The Order of the Stick, a webcomic drawn in simplistic stick-figure style, one strip features some police investigating a murder. A police artist sketches the perpetrators based on eyewitness accounts and produces an extremely realistic drawing... then gets fired for "not knowing how to draw a face".

    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.
  • The entire Season 2 of World's Greatest Adventures seems to be built around this trope. Thus episode 1 is told with stop-motion puppets (because Maggie had accidentally activated the camera's puppet filter), episodes 2 and 3 are in chalkboard-like 2D animation, etc.

    Western Animation 
  • Chowder occasionally cuts to stop motion or puppetry for brief moments. One episode had a dancing minotaur baby in conspicuous CGI, whose appearance freaked out the other characters in an In-Universe example of the Uncanny Valley effect.
    • One notable and hilarious example was in the episode "The Shopping Spree" where the cast spend so much money that the show couldn't afford to be animated. What follows is footage of the voice actors starting a plan to have a car wash to raise enough money to at least get the animation back.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog has several cases of Medium Blending that are brought up very suddenly for the sake of both humor and horror:
    • In "'Courage in the Big Stinkin' City", Courage walks in on a young girl playing a violin from behind. As soon as Courage lets his guard own, she turns around and makes a claymation Nightmare Face.
    • In "Perfect", one of Courage's Anxiety Dreams is a very bizarre figure (seemingly Eustace's bugle given a human head on the end) animated in CGI.
  • Dora the Explorer: The opening sequence from the first two seasons begins with the camera going through a live-action room before stopping on a green computer and the animated sequence in which it is played.
  • 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.
    • In "Let's Go To The Hop", Peter claims he tried drugs once and "it got way too real". Cut to live-action footage of a guy in Peter's clothes and a fake Peter head looking at his hands and declaring that he's "freaking out".
    • "Mr. Griffin Goes to Washington" has Peter claim that his company's profits are "higher than Alyssa Milano." The scene immediately zooms out to Milano's live-action living room, where she already has a lawyer in the process of suing the Fox network.
    • During the show's adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back shots of Chris/Luke training on Dagoba are intercut with shots taken directly from Rocky IV of Ivan Drago training.
    • In one episode a sex scene between Peter and Lois is represented by a live action Dwayne Johnson bashing their action figures together.
  • 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, The Jimmy Timmy Power Hour, had fun with this. In the second, Sheen 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 OddParents 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 (in fact, when they jump through the TV, a hand can be seen pulling their puppet forms out of frame).
    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 "Treehouse of Horror VI", Homer entered "the third dimension" and became CGI 3D, as did Bart when he went into that dimension to rescue Homer.
    • "Treehouse of Horror IX" 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, originally made as a promo for Sky One.
    • One Couch Gag was a parody of the Breaking Bad opening, being watched by a live-action Walt and Jesse.
    • A Couch Gag was done in Stop Motion by the team behind Robot Chicken.
  • Very frequently used in SpongeBob SquarePants. Some examples:
    • 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 buzzing horsefly in "Wormy".
    • A slightly disturbing example from "Krusty 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.
    • In "Dying For Pie", when the bomb finally goes off, it cuts to live-action Stock Footage of an underwater atomic explosion.
  • 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 boys' disastrous field trip. At one point a disclaimer 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 are other live action segments in the show, such as the shop teacher's deceased wife, the Japanese woman in the brainwashing segments of the Chinpokomon show and most fake commercials.
  • There was an episode of Arthur that had fantasy segments based on South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head, Dexter's Laboratory and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy:
    • In the closing credits of an episode, Hoss Delgado wakes up as a live action puppet in a Cartoon Network dumpster.
    • In Billy & Mandy's Big Boogey Adventure, there's a scene where the protagonists go into the "Hole of Oddities" and turn into hand puppets.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic:
    • In the episode "A Friend in Deed", Pinkie Pie's imagination is in felt animation.
    • In "Pinkie Pride", Cheese Sandwich's rubber chicken Boneless and Pinkie's pet alligator Gummy are briefly rendered in live-action during a musical number.
    • In "Make New Friends But Keep Discord", the dimension Discord threatens to throw Tree Hugger in is live-action as well, this time a Mexican sockpuppet walking around with a kid's drawing for a background. The dimension was original supposed to show a herd of real life ponies, but the executives nixed that for "being too weird"
  • 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. "Operation: C.L.U.E.S." involves a "dramatization" of a crime where a fat live-action man plays the part of Numbuh 3's sister.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • An episode set in the Stone Age had cutaways to the show's creators in deliberately choppy photoanimation explaining what was going on.
    • In the first season, and on occasion afterwards, the show would use live-action photography in place of backgrounds, most notably in "Candace Loses Her Head", when they go to Mt. Rushmore, actual photographs of the monument are used.
    • In Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe, the characters are on an alien ship as it reaches warp speed, and Baljeet notes that exceeding the speed of light will cause reality to break down and make the gang regress back to their basic forms... which here means the rough animation, then the storyboard. It escalates to the point where we see the show's creators in the process of pitching that scene. And then it goes back to the gang, who stand there staring at the audience for a while, utterly confused by what just happened, before agreeing to never discuss it ever again.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball already has loads of Medium Blending, but still manages this trope by occasionally having individual characters change medium: for instance, a twister in "The Storm" ends up making a bunch of characters have their individual mediums scattered between each other. Not to mention "The Money" having the animation's budget degrading along with the Wattersons' own to the point the quality starts degrading by the second, eventually reduced to panning over the storyboard, until they finally sell out. In "The Night," the chinkin Sussie has a nightmare of waking up at the end of the filming a scene as the actress playing her (Aurelie Charbonnier) and freaks out over looking like a monster.
  • Teen Titans Go!: The season 1 finale has a part of the episode done as puppets.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • In "Weirdmageddon", Dipper and Wendy at one point drive through a weirdness bubble that turns them briefly into a variety of styles - including their live-action voice actors! This is especially odd given that 12-year-old Dipper's voice actor, Jason Ritter, was 36 at the time and had a beard.
    • In “Little Gift Shop of Horrors” at the end of the "Clay Day" segment, Soos is turned into a clay figure who resembles Gumby.
    • In the end credits of “Sock Opera”, Mabel has a dream where Dipper, Stan, Fiddleford and herself are featured as live-action puppets.
  • Wander over Yonder:
    • "The Matchmaker" features Sylvia chasing Wander (bearing a love letter from Lord Hater to Lord Dominator) through a number of alternate dimensions, culminating in one where Sylvia and Wander are replaced by a live-action still of their voice actors April Winchell and Jack McBrayer.
    • "The New Toy" features a Parody Commercial for Hater's H.A.T.E.R.V., done as a live-action segment.
  • One episode of Superjail! ended with an actor playing the Warden as a hobo in the real world. Another one featured Jailbot's dream of being a real boy and going fishing with the Warden, rendered in creepily realistic CG.
  • In Episode 34 of Sonic Boom, Sonic has to wake up from his alarm beeping. He goes from his happier place, to his Happy Place, to where he's sleeping, to a live-action man dressed up in a bad Sonic costume and throwing a bag in the garbage.
    Roger Craig Smith: (As Sonic) Whoops, one too many.
  • Clash A Rama: In the episode celebrating the fifth anniversary of Clash of Clans, it's shown that using a spell past the throw-by date may cause, "in extreme cases, a sudden change in animation style". This happens thrice in the same episode with the same spell, a memory spell. First, a villager's memory gets puppet show visuals, then a Wall Breaker's is done in 2-D claymation, then a Builder's memory is shown in cut paper animation (sort of like South Park).
  • Tiny Toon Adventures: In the short Love Among the Toons (from the episode "Spring in Acme Acres"), God shows Cupid (Elmer Fudd) the chaos Condord's been causing by having him look through photos in a View-Master, and the pictures are rendered in live-action with clay/plasticine models, similar to those from real View-Master reels.
  • The Pink Panther short "Pink, Plunk, Plink" ends with the Panther conducting the theme from the movie, and being applauded by the only person in the audience - a live-action Henry Mancini.
  • Mickey Mouse (2013):
    • In the short "Goofy's Grandma", Mickey encounters an enormous live-action spider living in Goofy's shack.
    • In "Yodelberg", a yeti is about to be buried in an avalanche, with the POV shot of said avalanche being live-action.
  • In the OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes episode "Monster Party", Elsa, Phantasma and Sibella are drawn to resemble Ed, Edd n Eddy for a brief gag. Their outlines even wobble.
  • Yin Yang Yo!: In one episode, the villains are the Stink Aardvarks, who consider themselves superior to the regular aardvarks. We then cut to a photo of a real aardvark with a cartoon face on it, asking “Is this really necessary?”. He then proceeds to show up twice more in the episode, commenting on the Stink Aardvark’s Fantastic Racism and complimenting Yang for demolishing their traditions “Way to go Yang. Stick it to them.”


Community (2011)

An argument between Jeff and Shirley over foosball takes an unexpected turn for the anime. From "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (42 votes)

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