Occasionally when a character is shown to be imprisoned, the spacing between the jail bars is actually wider than the character's body. He could easily walk through the bars and escape, but doesn't, for whatever reason.
This is primarily a cartoon trope. Live-action prison bars are rarely made this way, unless the gag is specifically sending up the cartoon trope. Drawn or rendered bars are spaced that way so that they don't interfere with the view of the character's face and body language. They're visual shorthand for imprisonment, and are not drawn functionally even if we're supposed to believe they work.
Look out for examples using other types of imprisonment devices, such as manacles or stocks.
Serious Type: the characters and the audience are meant to take the bars seriously even though they're clearly spaced far enough apart to allow escape. In this type the bars are purely visual shorthand. Very, very rarely, a character might be put in such a prison by a jailor who is too dumb to realize
that the prisoner is small enough to escape the prison.
Comical Type: the character in the cell lampshades
the spacing of the bars by sticking her head or torso through. Someone might even accidentally
escape through the bars, having been too stupid to figure it out on purpose. A particularly Genre Savvy
character might even wait for the jailor to leave before slipping between the bars and making her escape.
Anime and Manga
- In an episode of One Piece, some characters are caught in a net. In closeup shots the net has a very fine mesh, but in distance shots the mesh is drawn wide enough that the characters could potentially fall right through. This demonstrates that it's done for the visual necessity of drawing the trap in a way that doesn't obscure the characters.
- In Slayers: Revolution, Zelgadis caught Pokota in a cage with bars so far apart, the little guy had to spread his arms in order to hold onto two bars at once. But he still couldn't get out.
- In A Muppet Christmas Carol, Rizzo and Gonzo climb over a barred gate, and then Rizzo runs back between the bars to get something he dropped.
- In The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas, Fred and Barney are in a jail. While the bars are close enough together to give Fred trouble, Barney can walk through the gaps without even shrugging. He doesn't until an item falls just out of reach and he has to step through to get them. No, it wasn't the keys; Fred actually has to tell him to go back out and get the keys and let Fred out of the cell.
- In Hot Shots! Part Deux, Colonel Walters is imprisoned inside a cage. He slips through the bars, grabs a set of keys, and slips back inside the cage. He then unlocks the door and leaves normally.
- In the Garfield TV special Here Comes Garfield, Garfield and Odie are taken to the pound. Odie is thrown into the back of an animal control truck where the bars are more than wide enough for him to slip through. Later, when Garfield and Odie are in the pound, all the cage bars are wide enough for even Garfield to walk out, but nobody seems to notice.
- The Simpsons episode "The Frying Game" has Marge and Homer in jail together, in a cell whose bars are clearly too close together for Homer but that Marge could walk right through. She doesn't, making this a Serious Type.
- Tweety's cage usually has bars wide enough apart for him to fly right through, and he does it if he has a good enough reason.
- On one Oh Yeah! Cartoons short, a boy secret agent and his cat sidekick are in a cage about to be hit by a Death Ray. When the cat asks how they can possibly escape, the kid simply slips through the bars. The cat, amused at how simple it is, hops back and forth between the bars ("I'm in, I'm out, I'm in, I'm out...") and ends up being hit by the ray. (Being a cartoon, he got better.)
- Averted in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Avatar Day". Aang is clearly too small for the adult-sized stocks, so he easily slips in and out of them while talking to his fellow inmates.