Widely Spaced Jail Bars

"These bars can't hold me forever! Hey, there's only like two of 'em. You fools have no business guarding prisoners."
Ice King, Adventure Time

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 his/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 his/her escape.


Examples:

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.

Films — Animated
  • In The Little Mermaid III: Ariel's Beginning, Sebastian can clearly fit through the bars of the jail cell he and the Catfish Club Band are stuck in. It's even pointed out by one of the prisoners trying to convince him to pick the lock.

Films — Live-Action
  • In The 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 in 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 Catwoman movie, the titular character breaks out of jail this way.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Roger handcuffs himself to Eddie and almost gets caught by the weasels since he can't stop getting in Eddie's way. Then after Eddie and Roger make it to a safe place, Eddie uses a hacksaw to cut the cuffs off. Roger helps to steady the table Eddy is using as a cutting surface... slipping out of the cuffs in the process.
    Eddie: You mean to tell me you could have slipped out of those cuffs at any time?!
    Roger: No, not any time! Only when it was funny.

Literature

Live Action TV
  • There's a variation in the Monty Python's Flying Circusnote  episode "Michael Ellis", where the department store sells birdcages in which to keep pet ants. But then, we the viewer can't see the ants anyway...

Video Games
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman imprisons Harley Quinn in such a cell.
  • In Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, there is a containment area on the Starship Phoenix with bars like these. The Player Character actually can walk between the bars, but the NPCs in there never think of escaping this way.
  • In The Lord of the Rings Online, the prisoners in the jail in Bree-town really should be able to just walk out of there.
  • In Donkey Kong 64, all of the Kongs that aren't Donkey Kong himself have been imprisoned, but though Tiny Kong is small enough to fit through the bars, she can only escape when Diddy solves the puzzle of the room. Dazzling Addar figures that the bars are voodoo, thus also explaining why the imprisoned Kongs can only use their "one-shot voodoo" padless Bananaportation power once they retract (or the cage breaks, in Chunky's case).
    • K. Lumsy can possibly squeeze through the bars in his massive cage, as well.

Western Animation
  • 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 Marge could walk right through them. She doesn't, making this a Serious Type.
  • Looney Tunes: Tweety's cage usually has bars wide enough apart for him to fly right through—but they're mostly there to keep Sylvester out anyway, 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 character, he made it.)
  • Played with 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. This is all part of the episode's premise that Aang is voluntarily submitting to justice when he is obviously powerful enough to escape any time he wanted to.
  • As pointed out by The Nostalgia Critic, the bars of the cage Sonic and Tails are trapped in during Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode "Subterranean Sonic" are easily wide enough for the two of them to escape through.
  • In "Max's Comic Adventure" on Dragon Tales, the gaps between the bars of Mondo Mouse's cage are clearly big enough for him to just walk through, but nevertheless, Max, Emmy and the dragons have to rescue him by figuring out a code to raise up the bars, making it a serious example.
  • Adventure Time:
    • In "Up a Tree", Finn spends some time in a prison such as this. At the end, he indeed just walks away.
    • Exaggerated in "What Have You Done?", where Ice King is imprisoned in a cell with only two bars. He even openly criticizes Finn & Jake for it. They eventually add more bars while he stands & watches, powerless to stop them without his crown.
  • Kung Fu Panda Legends Of Awesomeness: Viper the viper is hung from a chain with the cuff around her neck, but it never occurs to the villains-of-the-week, or to her, that she could just slither out of it because she is a viper.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Seen in "Twilight's Kingdom Part 2" when Discord traps the other Mane 5 and Spike in a cage.