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"I always loved this sequence. I always thought of it as like being drop-kicked into another movie. I wanted the audience to suddenly feel like they were in a completely different movie..."—Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich, on the scene in which Chatter Telephone describes the way Sunnyside is run.
Fiction often has far extremes. They cover the gamut of emotion, from tragedy to comedy. Sometimes these two will be so close together that they make the viewer's head spin! Done well, the contrast in moods can make each emotion all the more poignant and effective. Done poorly, the contrast can jar the reader/viewer right out of the story.
Sometimes Mood Whiplash can extend to entire sequels, where the original was funny but its sequel is rather dark. More often, however, a dark film will spawn a sequel that degenerates into self-parody and farce.
In episodic media, this trope will often take the form of a light-hearted stand-alone episode breaking up a darker Story Arc. If the work is a comedy and the trope is deliberately invoked, then it's being Played for Laughs.
This trope often goes hand in hand with Out-of-Genre Experience. Compare Mood Dissonance, where the contrast is compressed into a single scene, and Soundtrack Dissonance, the musical equivalent. Shows that incorporate the Cerebus Rollercoaster are very prone to this.
Vile Villain Saccharine Show is a very specific subtrope of this, where the main villain is far scarier than the tone of the show would usually warrant. See Knight of Cerebus for when the appearance of a Big Bad invokes this trope.
Ascended Fridge Horror can often be a source of this, by glossing over the dire implications of something one moment and then exploring them the next.
Not to be confused with Dastardly Whiplash.
Sometimes Truth in Television: the human body is physically made to laugh after some devastating event in order to get your bodily chemicals back to normal.
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