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Phantom-Zone Picture

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"You DARE call my thinking two-dimensional?!"

"My bracelet did what now? Huh. Who knew? Pretty neat that you can turn into a painting. Wowie-wow, I wish I was you!"

Got a prisoner neither bars nor chains can hold? Flatten them down to two dimensions, and stick them in a picture. From such a prison there can be no escaping, theoretically. As an added bonus, these pictures also make great Soul Jars.

Life inside the picture can vary in many ways, starting with how much freedom the prisoner has.

  • Soul Jars - The soul is trapped in the painting, but the body is free to move around.
  • Human Popsicle - The prisoner is not aware of time passing, but is frozen in one moment.
  • A living death - The prisoner is aware of time passing, but can't move inside the picture. Sometimes he can communicate with people in the real world.
  • Portal Picture - The picture is a gateway to another world, in which the prisoner is now trapped.

Generally, in the first two cases the prisoner does not age. With portal pictures they usually do, but in the third case both alternatives are reasonably common.

Methods of releasing the prisoner also vary. With cursed pictures, simply looking at them can release the captive, who gets replaced by the viewer. Pictures holding villains are a form of Sealed Evil in a Can, and the prisoners usually can only be freed by sinister rituals. Those holding heroes are more likely to respond to such things as the tears of a true love, or to require epic deeds to be done in the world within the painting.

While oil paintings are traditional, any kind of picture can be used. Another common variant is to use a mirror. With these, people looking in the mirror may see the prisoner in place of their reflection, or dimly superimposed on it.

Sub-Trope to Anomalous Art. If the person is forced to immobility, may become a case of And I Must Scream. This sort of trap has a strong possibility of being the work of a Mad Artist. Compare Crystal Prison.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The anime Le Portrait de Petite Cossette is all about such a cursed portrait.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, people's souls were often trapped within playing cards. The card art looked much like paintings of said souls. When empty, they resemble regular Duel Monster cards with a blank picture where the soul will be.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, this is done via technology embedded in the Duel Disks; it's the de facto way of dealing with an enemy in the Fusion Dimension, done by both factions.
  • Nehelenia in Sailor Moon could trap people in mirrors.
  • In Mail (a supernatural detective thriller from the same author as "The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service"), the 12th chapter in the 2nd volume has a portrait of a terminally ill girl. When people learned about her condition, most of them took pity on her and would keep on trying to motivate her to live when all she really wanted was to die. Even after she died, the motivation from people was so strong that her spirit lived on, trapped within that portrait. Of course, her spirit manages to escape the portrait from time to time to attempt suicide...usually with the body of whoever happens to be close by...
  • In Naruto, Sai can do this.
  • In Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, Sanju and Nijuku end up trapped in one when they are replaced by their reflections. While it isn't impossible for them to escape, doing so involves looking through a mirror, which is difficult when their reflections start covering every mirror they find.
  • Yoshihiro Kira from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable ends up in this once Jotaro takes a portrait of Kira and then destroys the camera to which Atom Heart Father was bound. While he can no longer remotely affect reality by interacting with photographs, he can lean out of his prison and manually affect the world, an ability with which he steals Kira's Arrow from the protagonists and uses a thread unravelled from his nightshirt to lasso a crow for mobility. (Unfortunately for him, it turns out that he's now just as flammable as an ordinary polaroid.)
    • Another villain from the same manga is Terunosuke Miyamoto and his Stand, Enigma. It allows him to store anything, from objects to people, into paper that he then folds up. Opening or ripping the paper allows whatever is trapped in it to escape.
  • In Delicious in Dungeon, Laios travels into several "living paintings" to eat the meals pictured inside, but is not able to gain any nutrients from the painted food. In an extra at the end of the volume, he instead tries to draw a picture of himself on the art. From an outside perspective, this seems to have no effect, but the drawing has actually gained sentience. The drawing tries to get the attention of Laios' friends outside the painting, but they cannot hear it and walk away, leaving the drawing to ponder its existence and wonder how long it will be stuck in the painting. The extra ends with the warning "amateurs should never mess around with magic".
  • One episode of Hell Girl features an Afterlife Antechamber where a corrupt journalist is stuck in an empty photo in a giant magazine long enough for Ai's minions to give him a "Reason You Suck" Speech.

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: In Season 4 episode 43, the monster for that episode traps people in photos by snapping pictures of them with a camera. We get to see how this works firsthand with Big M. and Little M., who are able to talk and move freely in the black void of the photo but can't interact with the outside world.

    Comic Books 
  • In one Doom Patrol story, the heroes had to save the entire city of Paris from being trapped in a magic painting by the Brotherhood of Dada (who are based on an actual artistic movement).
  • In All-Star Squadron #64, the Golden Age Superman villain Funny Face tries to trap Firebrand by transferring her into a cartoon drawing with the same device that he uses to transfer cartoon villain drawings into real people. Note that this was a Post-Crisis revision of a Superman story with the All-Star Squadron substituting for the non-existent Golden Age Superman.

    Fan Works 

  • In the first Superman movies, the Phantom Zone was portrayed in this manner, which is different from the comics.
    • Or it used to be...
    • Eventually revealed that the flat image of a person is just what it looks like when you're being taken to the Phantom Zone, which is itself an alternate dimension.
  • In the Olson Twins vehicle Double, Double, Toil and Trouble, the major conflict of the plot is the Farmer twins' attempts to free their Aunt Sofia from a mirror she was trapped in by her twin. This is somewhere between the third and fourth versions of the trope.
  • Used to comedic effect in Gremlins 2: The New Batch. A gremlin, which is manifested as lightning, is trapped on hold in the phone system.
  • Vigo the Carpathian used a painting of himself as a Soul Jar in Ghostbusters II .
  • Black Scorpion:
    • The villian Flashpoint has a Magical Camera that lets him take Phantom Zone Pictures.
    • Flashpoint's henchwomen Vision uses a camera that can trap people in it, supposedly in a suspended animation way, to help Flashpoint escape his cell in jail, later, she presses the "print" button and the real Flashpoint materializes.
    • Flashpoint again uses the Magical Camera to capture Black Scorpion, but when he "prints" her, he "photoshops" some chains to her.
    • At the end, Flashpoint and Vision get Hoist by His Own Petard by being trapped in the Magical Camera and being uploaded to a satellite. The last time we see them, they seem to be in a Portal Picture.
  • In The Wiz, Evermean, the Wicked Witch of the East, is also the Parks Department Commissioner of Oz. When the Munchkins "tag" (read: put graffiti on) one of her playgrounds, she retaliates by turning them into cartoonish drawings and trapping them on the structure itself. When Dorothy inadvertently kills Evermean, the spell immediately breaks and the Munchkins are freed.
    Munchkin 1: Caught us painting on her playground walls!
    Munchkin 2: Turned us into graffiti!
    Munchkin 3: And there we stayed—flat, splat, and stuck like that!

  • Ithika in The Astral Wanderer And The Forest Of Tears is a psychic entity that feeds on destruction, who tried to orchestrate the death of a sentient universe. As punishment, the universe imprisoned it within a painting.
  • Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is an early example of the Soul Jar variant.
    • Graham Masterton's Family Portrait has an entire family of sociopaths using this method, named after Dorian Gray.
  • Masterton's novel of Indonesian horror, Death Trance introduces native Balinese demons called leyaks who may only be killed by fire - or if a really good, really fast artist captures their essence in a pencil portrait and sets fire to it. note 
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl has an anecdote about a girl who was trapped in a picture by a witch. She was seen to age in the painting and moved around (but no one actually saw her move), eventually disappearing altogether. In the book she accepted an apple from a witch, in The Movie she was simply grabbed off the street, she was going to buy some milk in both instances.
  • The Harry Potter-style pictures, which are alive but aren't trapped people, are a borderline case.
  • The Golden Key (Melanie Rawn, Kate Elliott and Jennifer Roberson): A painter imprisons his first love(/cousin) in a Portal Picture, where time passes much more slowly.
  • Melanie Rawn uses the mirror variant in her solo Dragon Star books. Unfortunately, there's no way of removing the character from the mirror. Breaking it will only result in them being stuck in every single shard.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • A prison mirror is the title concept in the novel Martha in the Mirror. The Doctor makes a Continuity Nod to (television spoiler) what he did to Sister Of Mine at the end of "The Family of Blood".
    • The Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Demontage features a device that can trap people in paintings; if they remain there too long, they're trapped permanently.
  • This is strongly implied to be the fate of Fulgrim after his Demonic Possession, trapped in a picture of himself with an expression of horror forever as a greater demon has taken up permanent residence in his body and left the picture alone in the dark, where presumably nobody will ever find it or know what happened to the real Fulgrim.
    • He eventually escaped. Unfortunately, the effort needed to retake his body drove him entirely into Slaanesh's embrace.
  • Forest Kingdom: The Hawk & Fisher spinoff series' book 6 (The Bones of Haven) has Messerschmann's Portrait, a painting that works as a magical booby-trap. If a person looks into it for too long, they end up trapped in the highly unpleasant landscape of the painting, from which they can only be released if someone else falls for the trap and takes their place. Someone who spends too long trapped in the portrait comes out no longer entirely human, and completely insane.
  • Same concept, different media: Crowley from Good Omens traps a hostile demon in the tape from his answering machine.
  • The Choose Your Own Adventure book The Vampire Express has, as a MacGuffin, a portrait of the titular vampires from when they were still human. It's kept in a special crate and is effective as a weapon against them .
  • Queen Etheldredda's portrait in Septimus Heap is used as a trap for the titular Queen and her pet.
  • In the Give Yourself Goosebumps book "Scream of the Evil Genie", wishing to be attractive turns your character into a painting in a museum.
  • A variation exists in book two, The Black Unicorn, of the Terry Brooks fantasy series Magic Kingdom of Landover: the black unicorn of the title is the collective soul of the trapped unicorns, sealed in one of the volumes of magic, while the rest of the unicorns are their bodies trapped as drawings in the other volume. In this case, destroying the books frees and rejoins those imprisoned in them.
  • In User Unfriendly, the villain uses magic to trap victims inside of portraits and drain their life force.
  • Some of the many captives whom Margle, the evil sorcerer from Too Many Curses, keeps in his castle are imprisoned in this fashion, most of them in paintings that mock or menace them (e.g. a dwarf scholar in a library where all the books are on shelves he can't reach). Because the pictures that entrap them all hang in the same gallery, the captives spend most of their time chatting and arguing with one another.
  • Third Time Lucky and Other Stories of the Most Powerful Wizard in the World: H'sak, a demon, is trapped by Magdelene inside a shattered mirror for attacking her, where he remains nearly two hunded years. Magdelene banishes him to the Netherworld after the mirror gets stolen and he's nearly used in an evil ritual.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used both in Charmed episode 3 season 2 "The Painted World", and in episode 7 season 8 "The Lost Picture Show".
  • Doctor Who:
    • Done first in the 20th anniversary special "The Five Doctors" as a means of capturing said Doctors, The Brigadier and Sarah Jane Smith.
    • "Fear Her": The Creepy Child has the power to trap people in drawings.
    • In "The Family of Blood", the mirror variant was the fate of Sister of Mine.
    • Lots of people get trapped in paintings in The Sarah Jane Adventures story "Mona Lisa's Revenge". Not least of which was Mona Lisa herself, when the painting was originally made. Probably. It's left ambiguous just what was going on with her, and she explicitly wasn't the woman who was actually painted, but the painting seems to have been made as a prison for her.
    • The 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor", revolves around Gallifreyan pictures which, like the TARDIS, are larger on the inside. Although they're ordinarily only used to make great-looking 3D art, several characters hitch a ride in the spacious interiors.
  • An interesting variation occurs in "Portrait in Brown", an episode of My Favorite Martian. Uncle Martin (the Martian) is using his dimensional separator, when the landlady Mrs. Brown walks into the room and is reduced to two dimensions. To prevent her from injuring herself, Uncle Martin freezes Mrs. Brown and paints a quick portrait around her to hide the fact she's been frozen in 2D. As, of course, Martin (and, all Martians for that matter) is friendly and superior, this is only used as a temporary measure until Martin can effect a cure.
  • One episode of Night Gallery features a middle-aged man named Joseph Strobe who discovers a beautiful, idyllic painting of a man fishing in a lake in a Buenos Aires museum. He's captivated by the image and begins to see himself literally inside of it. As the episode progresses, the truth comes out: "Strobe" is actually a former Nazi and concentration camp commander, who escaped to Argentina to avoid punishment. When Strobe eventually snaps and murders an elderly Jewish man who's figured out his identity, he flees from the authorities and enters the room with "his" painting, and finally manages to permanently will himself into it...but the fishing painting has been replaced with one showing a crucifixion, and Strobe finds himself doomed to eternally suffer for his crimes.
  • Port Charles, after its Supernatural Soap Opera Retool, had an arc about one of Allison's ancestors being trapped in a painting until she could be posthumously cleared of a centuries-old murder.
  • Power Rangers S.P.D.: Alien criminals are basically turned into playing cards.
  • Sapphire and Steel:
    • Assignment 1 features Sapphire almost being killed by Roundhead soldiers while stuck in a painting.
    • Assignment 4 is mostly about people who belong in photographs being taken out of them and people who don't belong in photographs being taken into them.
  • This trope is named for the visual effect used to depict people trapped in the Phantom Zone in Smallville. It's pretty much the same as in the Christopher Reeve movies.
  • Lewis Carroll's mirror turns out to be one of these in Warehouse 13.
  • In Witches of East End, an ex-boyfriend of Freya has been trapped in a painting for decades. He escapes and takes Freya with him into another painting to imprison her there. But she escapes and the witches put him into another painting and bury it.
  • While it's never used as a prison (that we know of), the Quantum Mirror on Stargate SG-1 could be considered a variation of Type 4. It's a mirror which serves as a doorway to Alternate Universes. Atlantis implies that given infinite probability there should be universes devoid of life.
  • The Worst Witch: Agatha and Miss Gimlett trap Ada in one of these when they take over the school. After Miss Hardbroom finds out and attempts to rescue her, she gets the same treatment. Eventually the tables are turned, and both end up trapped in the same picture as punishment.
  • Haven has an episode where the Troubled of the Week is a photographer whose pictures turn their subjects intangible and invisible as soon as they're rendered. According to the creator of the Troubles it evolved over time, as originally it was tied to finishing a portrait painting. Destroying the portraits restores the victims.

  • In PVRIS' music video for "Anyone Else," each band member visits a room with a painting that comes to life and traps them in the frame.

    Tabletop Games 

  • In BIONICLE, Teridax does this to Miserix by forcing him to shapeshift into a Picasso-type picture, combined with a Mind Rape that convinces Miserix that he's dead and unable to move. He gets better.

    Video Games 
  • The Legend of Dragoon had a picture that trapped a princess inside of it in Act 2.
  • Illusion of Gaia had the insane artist Ishtar, who trapped people in their own portraits. By the time Will makes it to his studio, he finds that the artist has painted a self-portrait, thus committing himself to the same fate but leaving Will with the instructions and method of how to rescue Kara from a similar fate.
    • Similarly, another game by the same studio, SoulBlazer, featured a scientist trapped in his own painting (A type 4), an abstract piece titled "The World of Evil." A couple of his town models had also been made into portals, but no one particular was trapped in them.
  • In the early Myst games, a carefully-rewritten Linking Book will become one of these (a "Trap Book"). Later games, starting with Myst III: Exile and formally established in Myst IV: Revelation, retcon this into Prison Ages - sort of like Type Four, but there's no actual picture in which the prisoner is visible, and they're basically ordinary Ages in which there is no Linking Book back.
  • The 7th Guest uses a type three in a couple of eerie paintings inside Stauf's Mansion. The first one shows hands trying to push through the picture but to no avail; and the second, of Stauf himself, has a puzzle of restoring his face to human features, and once that's solved, he attempts to attack the player while clinging to the painting's background. The basement maze's background music playing overtop truly makes it Nightmare Fuel.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Super Mario 64 uses the fourth type extensively, however, Mario is never trapped. Bowser used the paintings as zones to control the Stars that powered Peach's castle. Its DS remake, however, played with this trope by having pictures of the captured playable characters holding the bosses that have the keys to their actual prisons, not the characters themselves.
    • Luigi's Mansion: Happens to Mario and numerous ghosts in the game, although in Mario's case he is in a Soul Jar.
    • Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon has this as well, with Mario and Toads being trapped in paintings by King Boo. He also wants to do this to Luigi and Professor E. Gadd, but it thankfully never happens.
    • Luigi's Mansion 3 has Mario, some Toads and Princess Peach caught in paintings by King Boo. He also manages to capture E. Gadd (though he's rescued fairly quickly) and, if you get a Game Over, Luigi himself finally gets caught! The most extreme example, however, happens in the final phase of the Final Boss, where King Boo gets so fed up with Luigi that he produces a picture frame large enough to swallow up the whole hotel, himself included, if you don't beat him in four minutes.
    • Mario Party DS: Koopa Krag, an elderly Koopa, was trapped into a book by Kamek prior to the events of the game. His grandson asks Mario and his friends to defeat Kamek to revert the spell and free the troubled character.
  • Magical Battle Arena: For her Desperation Attack, Sakura Kinomoto uses her Star Wand on her opponent and seals them inside a Sakura Card.
  • A Side Quest in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion requires you to rescue an artist who inadvertently trapped himself in one of his paintings via the use of a magical brush.
  • Luxord from Kingdom Hearts can imprison people within cards or dice, and Zexion can imprison people in his Lexicon.
  • Castlevania: Rondo of Blood has a phantom painting that flies around a room. If the player touches it, they become instantly trapped in the painting itself. The man in the painting then rips you apart, and you fall to the ground in many two-dimensional paper-like pieces.
  • In The Fool's Errand, The High Priestess can trap people inside tarot cards.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • In The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Yuga turns Zelda and the Seven Sages into paintings. He is able to turn himself into a non-imprisoned painting that can move along walls, an ability Link can also use.
    • In The Legend Of Zelda C Di Games, Ganon is defeated by getting imprisoned in a book. In Faces of Evil, it makes sense since you beat him by throwing the Book of Koridai at him, but in Wand of Gamelon the book just comes out of nowhere after you zap him with the eponymous MacGuffin.
    Ganon: Nooooo! Not into the pit! It buuuurns!!!
    Ganon: Aargh! The chains! Nooooo! You haven't seen the last of me!
  • In Dishonored, the non-lethal means of defeating Delilah in the Brigmore Witches is to replace the painting which will allow her to steal Emily's body with a painting of a tree in the Void. When her ritual is complete, she is sucked into the Void for eternity. Though, as the sequel shows, it didn't stick, so you can do that again by tampering with her ritual of creating "The world as it should be" and trapping her in her own painting. Apparently, the second time she's imprisoned for good, as the painting doubles as a Lotus-Eater Machine.
  • Portraits of the level boss in Yo! Joe! Beat the Ghosts will try to backstab you when you pass near them.
  • In Ominous Objects: Family Portrait the villain traps the main character's wife and children in several portraits which can only be entered by using special paint.
  • In Lego Marvel Superheroes, Dormammu trapped Doctor Strange in a portal picture, and the other heroes have to rescue him.
  • In Inscryption, This is the player's fate should they lose both their lives, as the opponent uses his camera to trap you inside of a new card for the game. this is also how the other three Scrybes are trapped during act one: P03 is trapped in the Stoat card, Grimora in the Stink Bug, and Magnificus in the Stunted Wolf. You have to steal Leshy's camera and subject him to the same fate in order to reset the game and free the other three.

    Web Original 
  • One 5 Second Films sketch featured a newspaper cover with a picture of a confused dork and a header 'Get help!' cries trapped loser. A gleeful passerby tried to pick up that newspaper, only to get sucked in, changing the picture to that of him berated by trapped loser and the header now saying Loser to sucker: 'I said get help!'.

    Western Animation 
  • W.I.T.C.H. had an episode where the artist was trapped in his own painting by the Big Bad. It lead to a Trapped in TV Land style plot. It had a great scene where the heroes, fleeing mooks by rafting down a river, run aground on canvas and have to paint more river. Also had a standoff where Will threatened to drop the MacGuffin into paint thinner.
    • This was loosely based on an early plot in the comics. The comic plot involved a Meridian artist, the court painter actually, fleeing to Earth after Phobos ordered all images of him destroyed. The artist became famous on Earth and even fell in love but Phobos found him and sealed him away in a painting of a village where no one had shed a tear in generations and which kept the last tear, for which the painting and the issue in question are both named, in a bottle. The artist can't paint properly and the Guardians' powers fail. Will comes up with a plan to have the artist mix the last tear into his paints which works perfectly. They offer to let their new friend come back to Earth with them but he's content to stay in the painting now that he can paint again. The issue ends with the girls admiring the painting, now with the artist painting a picture of his long-lost beloved and smiling.
  • The Smurfs had an episode where Painter obtained a vial of liquid from an evil wizard, which improved his paintings but trapped whatever he painted in the picture.
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power: The episode "Portrait of Doom" involved an enchanted set of paints which caused the subject of each painting to lose his/her energy, then to be transported to a mystical prison-like portrait that was being housed in Hordak's fortress. Both the paintings in the Rebel camp and the portraits in Hordak's fortress were required to undo the enchantment.
  • The Double Dragon (1993) animated series: If a villain screws up once too many, the Shadow Master will make him part of his mural, trapped as stone and half merged into the wall. Previous victims are still seen there.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • A slight inversion occurs in "Fight Fighters", when Rumble McSkirmish attempts to look directly up, despite not having a looking up animation, and ends up falling flat like a picture onto the ground himself. He proceeds to get up off-camera.
    • Played straight in "Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back the Falls", when Bills traps Wendy, Soos, Old Man McGucket, Robbie, Gideon and Pacifica inside tapestries.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Frankendoodle", where SpongeBob creates an evil drawing of himself with a magic pencil, and he defeats the doodle by slamming it between a book, causing it to become just an illustration on the page.
  • At the end of one Challenge of the Superfriends episode, Green Lantern captures Lex Luthor by turning him into a hundred-dollar bill. He is now flat and green.
    Green Lantern: If it's money you want, Luthor, try this on for size! [zaps him with his ring]
  • Robot Chicken parodies this in a quick sketch in which an explorer takes a polaroid of a native, trapping him in the photo.
  • Looney Tunes regularly inverted this trope, with characters jumping in and our of paintings and running around inside them.
  • Underdog's enemy Simon Bar Sinister invented two devices to do this in two separate stories.
    • The first was the Valentine Vault, which could turn victims into living valentine cards. After using the hero's girlfriend Sweet Polly as bait, he was able to turn Underdog into one. However, Simon made the mistake of not disposing of him when he had the chance, wanting to display Underdog like a trophy (or maybe dartboard) and then sadistically left him for the unconscious Polly to find when she woke up. When she did, it turned out that while he couldn't move, he could still talk, and could instruct her to give him the Super Energy Pill from his ring. When she did so, he broke free of the Picture, hunted down Simon and his goons, resulting in them falling victim to the device themselves when they tried to flee.
    • The second time, it was a camera that could turn people into pictures. After he used it on the police force, Underdog wrestled it away from him and figured out he could reverse the process simply by putting the lens on the camera backwards.
  • A Courage the Cowardly Dog episode had all the artworks of The Louvre come to life and The Mona Lisa ends up switching places with Muriel.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the backstory for the first episodes involves one of the two queens, sorry, princesses ruling Equestria turning into the evil Nightmare Moon and being imprisoned on the moon by the other one. While it's never detailed what form her entrapment takes, what we can see is that as long as she's imprisoned, the moon shows a distinctive "Mare in the Moon" pattern of craters in the form of a unicorn head, and when she's released, it disappears. So for all that's shown, she could just be existing as a vague picture on the moon, which has to be one of the physically biggest examples of this trope around.