Follow TV Tropes


Cardboard Pal

Go To
"Yes, I'm still out of town, Bubs."

You need a certain character to be involved in some sort of activity. The certain character cannot/doesn't want to/will hurt you if you approach them. So what are you going to do? That's easy: you get a piece of cardboard and draw a crude image of the character on it. Or draw their face on a melon. Or anything like that. Nobody will know the difference.

And in most comedic settings, it works.

Contrast with Companion Cube.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Nerima Daikon Brothers. Whenever the three main characters need to sing to Nabeshin for his assistance and are missing a member, they always fill them in with a crude looking cardboard cut out with a Hiragana Face.
  • In Grenadier, Mikan Kurenai often evades captivity by creating a balloon sculpture of herself, which always fools the captor for exactly the length of time it takes her to escape.
  • In Happy Lesson, Kanna Togakushi kidnaps the protagonist and replaces him with a crudely made robot programmed to speak a handful of abusive stock phrases. The ruse fools every other cast member for the duration of a hot springs trip.

  • In one of his TV specials, George Carlin appeared with a cardboard cutout of his suit-wearing clean-shaven younger self from his early days in comedy. He said, "I used to be this guy. He used to be me."

    Comic Books 
  • Taking a leaf from Sherlock Holmes' book (see below), one early Batman story had him using a dummy of Bruce Wayne positioned in a window to fool an assassin.
  • Tintin uses this trick in Tintin in America.

    Comic Strips 
  • One Peanuts strip has Charlie Brown showing his friends a life-size poster of himself he intends to give as a gift to his parents. Lucy says she likes the idea and would want to make one herself, but Linus warns her that their parents might replace her with the poster if she does.

    Films — Animation 
  • Toy Story: Woody uses Buzz's arm to prove to the other toys that Buzz is with him, since he's currently in the middle of a Heroic BSoD caused by his realization that he's a toy and not an actual space ranger, causing him to ignore Woody's requests to show himself, and having a detached arm isn't helping matters either. It fails horribly when he accidentally reveals that it’s not attached to Buzz, causing the other toys to think Woody killed and dismembered him on top of (accidentally) pushing him out of the window for taking Woody's place as Andy's new favourite toy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Carried out on a grand scale in Blazing Saddles, where the citizens of Rock Ridge built a mock-up of the whole town, complete with cardboard versions of themselves, so that the bad guys would attack the wrong town.
  • In Home Alone, Kevin uses several tricks, one of them a cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan, to fool the bandits into thinking the house is occupied and having a party.
  • In Escape to Victory the POW's cover for Hatch's escape by holding a mannequin of him while in formation. The guards eventually catch on....
  • In Seven (1979), Drew uses the Professor's sex doll to make it look there are two people in his car, and throw the Kahuna's men off his trail. Skater is shocked when he shoots 'her' with a shotgun and 'she' explodes.
  • Mrs. Hudson moves a cutout of Holmes back and forth behind the window to draw Colonel Moran's fire in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
  • The traffic cops in Teddy Bear fake a built-up area (which has a speed limit) by putting plywood houses near a road, so they can catch more drivers for speeding. This is a movie full of stupidly complicated plans, mind.

  • Sherlock Holmes uses a waxwork bust of himself to lure a would-be assassin in "The Adventure of the Empty House".
  • In The Vor Game Emperor Gregor complains "I think I could be replaced at half my functions by a life-sized plastic model, and no one would notice."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Scrubs the Almighty Janitor is "ordered" by JD to leave him alone. He gets around this by making a cardboard cut out and using it to set him up for various sexual harassment complaints.
  • In the MST3K episode "Hobgoblins", Mike and the 'bots get so fed up with the titular movie, they actually make cardboard cutouts of themselves and place them in the theater and the bridge along with some poorly acted messages playing on a tape recorder. They manage to fool everyone but Observer. During the ending credits, they perform a mock interview of the film's director Rick Sloane using another cutout and Crow doing the voice. The real Sloane was reportedly not amused: understandable since they claimed that Sloane was "high on crack" and "had his brain replaced by rat droppings".
  • The Brittas Empire: In "Snap Happy", Colin is rendered incapacitated with the bends, but is needed for a staff photo, so Brittas takes a cardboard cutout of his head and sticks it on to a mannequin to serve as a stand-in.
  • The Goodies:
    • "Bunfight at the O.K. Tea Rooms", Graeme creates a dummy of himself out of a frying pan, a mop and some other odds and ends to fool the others while he sneaks away to register the cream claim. Tim and Bill converse with it for some time before they notice anything is amiss.
    • In another episode Bill relates how a plastic model of Roger Moore was used for this trope. "Then again, maybe it was the real Roger Moore."
    • "It Might as Well Be String". The mysterious cartel who are stockpiling the world's string are shown as Sinister Silhouettes jabbering away behind a screen. When Tim goes to confront them he finds out they're just still cardboard cutouts, but when he leaves they come back to life again and run off.
  • In an episode of Men Behaving Badly, Tony and Gary have fallen out, so Gary constructs a fake Tony out of an inflatable sex doll and Tony's clothes so they can continue to have their Seinfeldian Conversations on the sofa while drinking lager. It gets awkward when the real Tony returns halfway through and Gary has to hastily cram the doll under his cushion to hide and try to deflate it.
  • Friends:
    • Ross gets out of Monica's "fun activity" of packing Rachel's stuff by saying he's looking after his son. Since his apartment is directly opposite Monica's, he then has to fashion a fake Ben out of spare clothes and a pumpkin. This works right up to the point where the pumpkin falls off.
    • Ross thinks that Rachel and Monica enjoy immensely watching him doing "bits" like surfing or pretending to watch TV. When it gets old, they don't want to hurt his feelings. Chandler and Joey lend them their cardboard ladies from Baywatch, and they put their faces on them. Both parties are satisfied: Ross has the audience and Rachel and Monica are finally free.
  • On The Dish, Danielle Fishell has cut-outs of most of the New Moon cast.
  • In one episode of My Name Is Earl, Randy makes a full-sized Darnell doll because he misses the real Darnell. Then he makes an Earl doll after the real Earl goes missing as well.
  • Stephen Colbert has a cardboard cutout to show people that he has best friends.
  • One Russ Abbot sketch is set in a World War 2 prison camp. The commandant, making an inspection, warns his sidekick that British officers have been known to escape and leave dummies behind — so they should be vigilant. When they enter the hut, we see Russ surrounded by four obvious cardboard cutouts. Hilarity ensues as he tries to convince the Germans that they are real people.
  • Back during his Late Night days, David Letterman once had an episode where he and his guest replaced themselves with mannequins and prerecorded audio so that they could sneak off and do other things.
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: the Motor Mouth Martin Qwerly has been shown to yammer on at a cardboard cutout of Ned for hours without noticing the switch.
  • Nichols: In "The Siege", Ketcham and Mitchell and put a mannequin behind the wheel of Ketcham's car and send it towards the Mexicans so it looks like they are making a run for it.
  • NCIS: When Tony and Ziva go out of town on a mission, Abby creates cardboard mockups of them in her lab. McGee then embellishes Cardboard Tony with a mustache.

  • In the Fleetwood Mac video for the song "Tusk", bassist John McVie was in Tahiti and unable to come to the filming at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. To make up for his absence, Mick Fleetwood had a cardboard cutout of McVie made and carried it around with him, eventually placing it with the rest of the band.
  • Michael Jackson refused to travel to England for filming of The Jacksons video for "Torture"; so they borrowed Michael's waxwork from Madame Tussaud's museum and used it as a stand-in — both for the video, and for several jokes at the missing Jackson's expense.
  • Played for Drama in the song "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" by Roxy Music, as a lonely suburbanite creepily bonds with an inflatable sex doll:
    "Inflatable doll
    My role is to serve you
    Disposable darling
    Can't throw you away now"

    Myths & Religion 
  • Pygmalion intended to create "the perfect woman" out of stone, since he believed flesh and blood ones to be inferior. Except Cargo Ship ensues, ultimately resulting in a Pygmalion Plot.
  • A tar baby is used to capture Br'er Rabbit.

    Pro Wrestling 

    Video Games 
  • In Giants: Citizen Kabuto, a trap uses cardboard versions of missing NPCs as a bait.
  • In a mission in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, you are paid to assassinate a general in an Eastern European country. If you go to the suggested snipers-perch, you can see him clearly through a window - but if you shoot at him, he doesn't fall, and alarms goes off. If you sneak into the building, however, you'll be able to see him from behind and realize that he's a propped-up cardboard cutout. The whole thing is a trap, and a counter-sniper is waiting to kill you.
  • King Kut Out in Donkey Kong 64.
  • Similarly, "Bowser-On-A-Stik" from Yoshi Topsy-Turvy.
  • Octodad's main objective in the first game is building a decoy for himself, in order to give himself time to finish a gift for his wedding anniversary.
  • Forrest Byrnes from Firewatch can be considered this.

    Web Animation 
  • Cardboard Marzipan and Cardboard Homestar in Homestar Runner. Cardboard Marzipan was a cardboard cutout with a crude rendition of Marzipan on it that Homestar produced whenever Marzipan went on vacation, presumably because he misses Marzipan. However, the dialogue that Homestar provides for her is an exaggeratedly abrasive version of her own, decrying everything as offensive and hitting on Bubs and The Cheat, indicating Homestar's paranoia. Contrastingly, Cardboard Homestar gets pulled out when Marzipan wants some peace and quiet and doesn't want people inquiring after the whereabouts of the real Homestar. Cardboard Homestar is an indication that Marzipan feels greatly unappreciated, because she provides all of his dialog and his only lines are variations on "Marzipan, you're so smart".
    • Although, conversely, Cardboard Marzipan also throws into sharp relief the fact that Marzipan compensates for Homestar's bad-boyfriend-osity by being an even worse girlfriend. Cardboard Marzipan's behavior, though exaggerated, is otherwise such an expert mirror of real Marzipan's that she even provides insights (such as "are you just using galvanized nails to hide the fact that you don't know how to build a deck") that Homestar shouldn't actually be aware of, and illustrates that paranoid as Homestar is he still values the time he spends with the genuine article and pays attention to her. Marzipan, on the other hand, just plain doesn't care enough to notice anything about Homestar except that he's kind of dim.
    • Alternatively, given the rest of the cartoons, a much simpler explanation is possible.
  • In Final Fantasy XII in a Nutshell, Vaan complains that he's not taken seriously as a protagonist due to his lack of backstory and character development... to Penelo, a character with so little backstory and development that she is represented (in this scene and all scenes in the future) by a cardboard cutout.

    Web Comics 
  • In one strip of Loserz, Jodie's part is played by a broomstick, for no apparent reason.
  • Occurred in the last event of AkumaTH's "Last Chance" Arc. The Event was a four-on-four cage match between some of the strongest fighters in the series, with each fighter entering one at a time. When the Big Bad enters the ring, he immediately walks over to the ref, causing everyone to worry about foul play... until he nudges the ref, revealing him to be a cardboard prop ("Are you seriously telling me that no one noticed this?"). As it turns out, the referee is watching the match through a live feed from outside the arena, as he was nearly killed while refereeing the first event.
  • The Suburban Jungle's Tiffany Tiger employs a cardboard cutout to take her place in the office while she pursues her modelling career at a shoot.
  • A Running Gag in Brat-Halla involves Balder being replaced by a wooden dummy of himself as a distraction. Most notably during the beauty pageant competition in the Pantheon Games, to protect Balder's virginity against some rather ravenous goddesses of beauty, who later gush about Balder's prowess, though one complains about getting splinters. Try not to think about that.
  • Twice in Dominic Deegan, Stark and Pam used dummies of Dominic and Dex, respectively, to practice revealing a hard truth.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Secrets of a Successful Marriage" Homer creates a new Marge by sticking a paper face on a potted plant.
    • "The Great Louse Detective" involves Sideshow Bob trying to figure out who is attempting to kill Homer, so they place a fake Homer (made of a sack and a pillow) outside on the lawn. There 'he' is attacked by Moe, Patty and Selma, Reverend Lovejoy and the real Homer, none of which are the true attempted murderers.
    • "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner" has Homer leaving a dummy of himself (made out of buckets, rubber gloves and other odds and ends) and tape recording of him singing "She Works Hard For the Money" to cover for him at work. The dummy gets promoted before bursting into flames.
    • "Mother Simpson" had Homer use a dummy of himself to fake his death, in order to skip a day at work.
    • And when Bart is emancipated, Homer starts playing baseball with a crude dummy of Bart in the backyard. He ends up electrocuting both the dummy and himself.
    • In "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" Marge explains to the kids that she used to cover for his absence with a dummy of Homer consisting of a coffee can, some balloons, and dish gloves, while playing a tape of Homer's voice.
  • An episode of the Dennis the Menace (UK) cartoon featured a villain who was a rather odd inventor (inventing things like the toothless comb for bald men), one of his inventions was the Foldable Friend, which was essentially a cardboard cut-out of a person that could be folded down.
  • When Eduardo goes missing in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Bloo builds a crude dummy of him to fool Mr. Herriman until they can find the real one. It actually works, as Herriman is seen playing chess with it.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: The short "The Big Sister" shows how Dexter has a robotic clone on standby, just in case his mom enters his room. Of course, it works just fine, despite being obviously mechanical and apparently only capable of saying the words "Hello, Mother" over and over.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy:
    • In "Dear Ed", the Eds try to help Johnny replace Plank (a piece of wood with a face drawn on it) with other inanimate objects with similar faces. Johnny is very disturbed by a few of these, particularly when they forget to draw a second eye on Bob the Traffic Cone.
    • In "An Ed Is Born", Eddy makes a home movie for his older brother to prove that he's not a little kid anymore, and near the end has a big party with all the kids in the neighborhood replaced with crude cardboard cutouts strapped to the backs of Rolf's stolen chickens.
    • In "3 Squares and an Ed", Edd and Eddy try to help a grounded Ed escape to freedom, and they create a dummy with a vacuum cleaner and a pineapple "head" dressed in Ed's clothes, also propping a book next to it, to fool Sarah when she goes to check on him. Sarah suspects something when she sees "Ed" reading a book and demands to know where he got it; she shakes the dummy and the pineapple falls off, giving away the ruse.
  • When Max, in the Sam & Max: Freelance Police animation episode "Max's Big Day", refuses to leave a primitive tribe, Sam makes an effigy of his "little buddy" and takes it away with him.
  • In the My Gym Partner's a Monkey episode "Sick Day", the other animals create a fake Adam for Jake to pal around with to prevent him from freaking out when Adam takes a sick day. Jake is completely fooled until he knocks the head off.
  • In an episode of The Proud Family, Penny's cousin wants to take her driving, so they make a cardboard copy of Oscar. It works... until his head gets knocked off by a passing car.
  • Camp Lazlo: In "The Weakest Link", Scoutmaster Lumpus creates fake scouts after all the scouts go missing on the day when Commander Hoo-Haw is due to make his inspection.
  • On Animaniacs, the Warner Brothers (and Dot) create nodding dummies of themselves to allow them to sneak off a boring chat show they're hosting.
  • On an episode of The Jetsons, George and Mr. Spacely go to a football game. George set up a cardboard cutout of himself at his desk and a record with his voice on it in case Jane called the viewphone in his office, as he told her he was working late that night.
  • Grojband: When the band splits up in "It's In the Card", Corey compensates by making a fake band out of junk he finds in the garage and pretending its real.
  • In an episode of House of Mouse, Mortimer Mouse tries to hit on Minnie and Daisy. They elude him by propping up a mop and a hat rack to take their places.

    Real Life 
  • Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka, after being dumped by Alma Mahler (widow of the famous composer Gustav), ordered a life-sized replica of her to keep as a lover.
  • As a prank, the folks at All Too Flat once created a large cardboard cutout version of the guy on the crosswalk sign, then put it in the middle of the street and see what happened. Just for the sake of completeness, here's the link.
  • When Tom Baker refused to take part in the Doctor Who special "The Five Doctors", The BBC created some publicity shots of all five Doctors by having the actors playing the other four Doctors pose with a waxwork of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor.
  • Hilariously, even politicians get in on the act: to protest Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd not showing up to Parliament at the opposition's demand, Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker hauled in a cardboard cutout of Rudd and sent the debate screaming into chaos until it was suspended.
  • A CIA technique for dodging a tail involves this technique. A car with two agents turns a corner, then before the car following them appears, the passenger jumps out and mingles with pedestrians. Meanwhile the driver pulls a lever, activating a pop-up dummy making it look like there's still two people in the car. A CIA employee planning to defect used the same technique to dodge surveillance, using a blow-up sex doll.
  • Police in Australia used a cardboard cut-out of a police car partly hidden in the bushes by a highway to fool drivers into slowing down. Another trick involved a full-sized cardboard cutout of a police officer in a shop to make people nervous about shoplifting — one imagines this was much less effective, but Cracked pointed out that it's actually quite effective.
  • Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has been known to use a cardboard cutout of himself to avoid questions from reporters.