So, you're in Prison. Or, at least, a jail cell. Your enemies have caught you and, having better things to do than murder you right away, have thrown you behind bars for safe keeping. Or maybe your allies have handcuffed you to a radiator to get you out of the way. But who's not locked up? That animal on the other side of the room . . . right next to the big ring of keys on the wall.
Now the task is to get the animal to bring the keys (or some other useful escape tool) over to you. If it's your Non-Human Sidekick, this could be as simple as a meaningful wink or special signal. But if it's a critter you're not necessarily on the best of terms with or don't know—or, heavens forbid, one belonging to the enemies who was given the keys for safe-keeping—well, you could be screwed. A common variation is for the sidekick to have to steal the keys off The Jailer's person.
This often facilitates Cardboard Prison. Sister-trope to Conveniently-Placed Sharp Thing. Compare Bring Help Back for when there aren't any keys around. See also Jail Bake and Passive Rescue for other ways of getting keys to prisoners, though this is more likely to occur on the spur of the moment than to be a part of a Great Escape. If the imprisoned character is a villain, this is a subtrope of Breaking Out the Boss. May involve a Cool Key or a Dangerous Key Fumble.
- Played with in Aladdin. Al is shackled in a dungeon for "kidnapping" Princess Jasmine. His monkey Abu comes to pick open the shackle locks, but that doesn't free him from the dungeon—a disguised Jafar does, as part of his plan to get the magic lamp.
- Cinderella: After Lady Tremaine locks Cinderella in her room during the Duke's visit, the mice Jaq and Gus have to get the key from Tremaine's pocket and carry it up the stairs to free her.
- Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama: After Team Possible is captured by Drakken, Rufus retrieves Kim's laser lipstick to get them untied.
- The Rescuers Down Under: Cody is trapped by McLeach with some of the animals he's poached. One of them, Frank the frilled lizard, manages to free himself and tries to get the keys to Cody. Unfortunately, McLeach's pet goanna Joanna arrives to stop him.
- The Road to El Dorado: From their holding cell onboard ship, Miguel offers the captain's horse Altivo an apple if he will bring them a pry bar. Just as Tulio is ridiculing him for expecting a horse to understand the words "pry bar," Altivo shows up with the cell keys instead. Tulio promptly moves the goal posts by claiming that technically speaking, Altivo didn't get them a pry bar.
- The Beastmaster: The Beastmaster's ferrets, who make a habit of getting him out of sticky situations, steal a key and slip under a door to get it to him when he is trapped in a cell.
- A variant in Fantastic Beastsand Where To Find Them: while Newt's bowtruckle companion, Pickett, doesn't outright bring him a set of keys, he does repeatedly pick locks to get Newt out of handcuffs.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: When Yondu and Rocket are locked in the ship's hold, they catch Baby Groot's attention and tell him to bring Yondu's prototype head fin so they can break out. Unfortunately, Groot doesn't quite understand what they're talking about and brings back a series of increasingly hilarious objects—including a pair of underwear, a severed toe, and a desk—before a regretful mutineer helps him out.
- In Herbie Goes Bananas, Herbie (a sentient car who behaves much like an animal sidekick) retrieves the key to Paco's cell by bending his antenna enough to hook the keyring.
- In The Mask, Stanley's dog Milo's ability to fetch his master's keys comes in handy when he has to climb the wall into jail and sneak the keys off the sleeping policeman to break Stanley out—though he at first misunderstands the command, going for the policeman's sandwich.
Stanley: Not the cheese, the keys!
- Pirates of the Caribbean:
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Adapting the scene from the ride, Captain Jack Sparrow mocks the other prisoners for trying to coax the mangy dog into bringing them the keys. A cannon ball opens up part of their cell, allowing them to escape. Once they leave, Sparrow starts whistling for the dog, too, but when the cursed pirates appear, the dog runs away with the keys, leaving him completely trapped.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: Another group of prisoners are whistling and hooting to call someone over...but in this case, they're cat-calling Elizabeth, sitting in the next cell after being wrongfully imprisoned. Later, when Governor Swann comes to get her out, he looks around and remarks "Now, where's that dog with the keys?" In a Brick Joke, we later see Pintel and Ragetti in a rowboat having escaped their cell, and then we see the dog (keys still in mouth) is in the boat with them.
- Concluded in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: The Brethren Court bring out the (locked) book containing the Pirate's code, and the dog turns up carrying these keys as well.
- A technological variation in the fifth Artemis Fowl book. When Holly is imprisoned, her Mission Control remote-activates her helmet in the other room to bounce over and break her out with its laser. She is considerably weirded out to find it bouncing up and down outside her cell like a little animal.
- Defied by Fred Colon of the Discworld book Thud!. He is described as being a particularly good jailor for, among other reasons, keeping the keys to his cells "in a tin box in the bottom drawer of his desk, a long way out of reach of any stick, hand, dog, cunningly thrown belt or trained Klatchian monkey spider." A footnote mentions this makes him possibly unique in the annals of jail history.
- In Worm, Taylor uses cockroaches to steal a cop's keys and get out of handcuffs.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: While the ride is taking you through the attack on Port Royal, you can see and hear several prisoners trying to coax a mangy dog into bringing them the keys to their cell. The dog has the keys in its mouth, but doesn't seem certain about going to the cell door.
- Common enough to earn an appearance on the Evil Overlord List, where item 42 has the overlord vow to imprison the hero's pet along with the hero, to prevent it fetching the keys for them or otherwise breaking them out.
- In the Action League Now episode, "Hey! Who Stole My Face?", a blender accident leaves Bill the Lab Guy to put The Chief and The Mayor back together. Bill does so, but accidentally switches their faces. The Mayor with The Chief's face takes advantage of this, and tricks the police into arresting The Chief with The Mayor's face. Because Justice, The Chief's pet dog is the only one who can tell The Chief and The Mayor apart even with their faces switched, he rescues The Chief with The Mayor's face by bringing him the keys to his jail cell.