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Widely-Spaced Jail Bars

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Bar guards are out of luck.

"Oh no, now they're trapped in one of those cartoon prisons where the bars are wide enough to walk through, but they just... don't for some reason? If you're wondering, animation does that often, since it's a stylistic choice so you can see their faces."

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.note 

Look out for examples using other types of imprisonment devices, such as manacles or stocks, or in more modern-day works, shock collars/bracelets/electronic monitors for anyone who tries to take advantage of the wide spacing and puts as much as their hand or head through.

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. Or perhaps, simply, The Guards Must Be Crazy.

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 savvy character might even wait for the jailor to leave before slipping between the bars and making his/her escape.

When presented as a serious obstacle, this is very similar to the Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • One of the plot points in the Dressrosa arc of One Piece is Doflamingo trapping the whole island (including some of the Straw Hats and marines) inside a cage built with his cutting string power. 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.
  • Asuna's cell in Sword Art Online. The bars are spaced enough to warrant a Memetic Mutation. Seen here.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Flying Beaver Brothers: Birds vs. Bunnies, the titular beavers are imprisoned by rabbits in a cage with bars wide apart for them to walk sideways through, but they don't leave until they are broken out by a bird. Turns into a comical type later on when one of the beavers ends up in the cage again and simply escapes through the bars once the rabbits leave, while asking to himself why he and his brother didn't think of this before.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Glitch is placed in an energy prison with "bars" that seem to be placed far enough apart that they could easily stroll out. Pressing one of their hands to the seemingly empty space between the "bars" proves incredibly painful however, meaning they have to trick their captors into letting them out instead.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Aladdin: The Return of Jafar, the bars in the cage that Iago is trapped in are wide enough that he should seemingly be able to get out if he sucked in his gut a bit or came at it sideways. Yet still, he pleads with Abu to open it until Rajah shows up, making it a serious example.
  • Bartok the Magnificent: The cage Bartok is locked in is clearly given wide enough bars for him to slip through, yet he never does. It also appears Prince Ivan could squeeze through his cage if he tried really hard and was good at contortions.
  • In The Boss Baby, the cage that Francis E. Francis places Tim and the Boss Baby in looks like both of them could just climb a little and get right out of it. It doesn't really matter because they're both dropped through a trapdoor before they can even really consider it.
  • In The Lion King, Scar has Zazu trapped in a cage that appears to be made of bones that it looks like he could easily walk right out of if he just tucked in his wings and sucked in his gut a little. Even better that Timon slips in no problem later, when the Hyenas corner him.
  • In The Little Mermaid: 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.
  • In My Little Pony: The Movie, though it's kind of hard to tell, it does appear with the cage that Tempest puts Twilight Sparkle in that she could just walk out if maybe she was good at contortions. Not that it would necessarily matter, anyway, since she was without magic while in the cage and surrounded by Tempest and the Storm King's minions.
  • The Night B4 Christmas: The jail cell the music group were placed in is at least wide enough for Elvin to fit through, though he never gets himself out this way.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: When Rudolph and his friends are caught by Stormella, she locks them up in her ice cave with icicles as bars, that should be big enough for Rudolph and Zoey to simply walk through.
  • In The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue, When Timmy is locked up by Evil Martin, the bars are clearly wide enough for him to squeeze through.
  • Bowser's prison cages in The Super Mario Bros. Movie are far enough apart that the imprisoned could easily get through them, especially the flying Lumalee. Not that it matters, since they're above lava, the room is guarded by flying Clown Cars, and Lumalee doesn't escape, having accepted his fate and becoming a Death Seeker.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Catwoman movie, the title character breaks out of jail by slipping between the bars.
  • 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 wooden 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. Additional comedy is derived from the fact that he for some reason stayed in the cage until the heroes came and pushed the keys closer to him.
  • Done intentionally for laughs in the filmed version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. When Joseph is in jail, he's kept in a small circular cage within a larger cell. But the bars are wide enough that when the Butler and Baker approach him to have their dreams interpreted, the Butler easily slips through the bars to join him inside. And when the Baker turns out to be too fat to do the same, Joseph simply opens the cage's unlocked door to let him in.
  • A slight comedic variant occurs in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where Eddie Valiant and Roger Rabbit are trapped in handcuffs together and need to escape, and they are clearly cuffed practically. Eddie tries to saw the cuffs apart, and Roger easily yanks out his cuffed hand to ask if he can help. When Eddie gets angry at him because he could have done this whenever he wanted, Roger defensively replies that, because he is a Toon, he could only do it when it was funny to do so.

  • An illustration in The Bad Beginning shows Sunny in a birdcage built this way.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. As part of the propaganda spread about Tyrion Lannister after his escape from Kings Landing, he's said to have wriggled between the bars of his cell because he's a dwarf. In reality the Black Cells have very solid doors, which his brother in the Kingsguard conveniently opened for him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Farscape. The holding cells on Moya, which used to be a Prison Ship before it was liberated by the protagonists, are an open grate of curved and flattened strips of bronze metal. They work well as a Scenery Censor for a naked John Crichton when he wakes up there, but one wonders how they held the diminutive Rygel, and even Aeryn Sun looks like she could squeeze through them if she just took off her bulky spacesuit.
  • 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...

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Barbarian and the Troll: When Evan is on trial for animal cruelty, he can easily walk through the bars but refuses. When he's acquitted, he walks through.
  • 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. Lampshaded when Gonzo, who didn't realize Rizzo could fit, calls him an idiot for not doing that in the first place.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman imprisons Harley Quinn in such a cell.
  • 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.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: The wooden cage where Ganondorf keeps his kidnapped children has this problem. The relevant cutscenes make it pretty obvious that both Link and his captive sister could easily fit between the bars. This is far from the only thing keeping them there (it's in a properly-locked room at the top of a heavily guarded evil fortress), and the cage itself may be intended to protect the prisoners from the giant bird guarding the area; but it's still pretty silly when Link ineffectually and unnecessarily tries to force the door open.
  • 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.
  • The Puni tribe in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door are locked in cells you need keys to open. The Punis are mouse-sized creatures (in a game where every character is paper-thin, no less) who seemingly are only prevented from squeezing through the bars by exclusively having 3/4 angle-drawn sprites that are just wider than the space.
  • 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.
  • Raven's Cry has a guy stuck in a prison cell that's literally half open.
  • Spyro: Year of the Dragon: In both the original and Reignited versions, the bars for each of the allies cages are clearly widely spaced enough for them to squeeze through, yet you have to pay Moneybags to let them out.
  • Undertale: At one point Papyrus tries to block your progress by putting up a set of bars. Papyrus being Papyrus, the bars are so widely spaced you can simply walk through them. Sans even points this out. Later on, if Papyrus defeats you in battle, he locks you a cell (actually, just his backyard shed), which again, you can literally just walk out of.
  • In Yooka-Laylee pagies are trapped in cages where they could easily fit through. Sometimes Yooka even points that out to them.

    Visual Novels 
  • Averted in Daughter for Dessert. The protagonist is shown in a rather realistic jail cell when he gets locked up.

  • Dan of El Goonish Shive discovered the utility of this trope the hard way in drawing a bird cage intended as a prison for a tiny person.
    Dan: I actually made a 3D model of that gosh darn bird cage to help me with this. It used to have more bars, but after accepting the horrible, horrible truth that seeing Sarah was more important than the bar spacing making sense, I removed half of them.
  • In Homestuck, Feferi's pet cuttlefish are noted to easily swim through the bars of the birdcages she keeps them in. She's fine with this, possibly because she plans on applying this "adoption" to her fellow trolls.
  • Rusty and Co.: If the bars from the cells of the stadium's gaol may be enough to keep in a large, burly man like Malevolus, they look way too spread apart to hold in a pair of thin elves.
  • Subverted in the climax of Spacetrawler with a group of caged Eebs. One of them realizes the bars are wide enough for them (and not Martina) to fit through, only to discover it's also reinforced with an "invisibar wire" mesh. Cue a "Boink!" as the Eeb walks right into it and a "Chuff!" as Martina catches up and stabs them.

    Web Videos 
  • In Pony life with Lenora and Finola, in one episode, the two are put in jail, and Lenora accidentally walks out of their cell through the bars and then reenters without even realizing it. The two are too stupid to realize they can escape this way.

    Western Animation 
  • 3-2-1 Penguins!:
    • In the episode "Give and Let Give", the cage Jason and Michelle are in has bars far apart for them to just escape if they tried.
    • Zig-zagged in "Do unto Brothers". The bars are narrow enough to prevent the penguins from escaping, but not the kids. As Michelle puts it...
      Michelle: This cell was built to hold penguins, not kids.
  • 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 and Jake for it. They eventually add more bars while he stands and watches, powerless to stop them without his crown.
  • Animaniacs: The city pound Rita and Runt are in during "When Rita Met Runt" has those.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Played with in the 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.
    • In the episode "Imprisoned," the Gaang is easily able to fit between some of the bars on top of the titled prison's wall and had the ability to fly away. However, said prison is a Tailor-Made Prison for Earthbenders in the middle of the ocean, and the other side of the bars only leads to a sheer drop down to the sea. Any prisoner who got through the bars and did not have a flying bison would only have a watery grave awaiting them.
  • Bounty Hamster. "Planet of the Japes" involves a Planet of Hats whose hat is practical jokes. A dissident who opposes this idea is thrown into prison for years, until he leans against the bars and discovers they're made of rubber.
  • In "Under the Bigtop" from The Care Bears Family, Wally is bothered by his small size, thinking it means he can't do anything in the circus and teased by the other kids. Brave Heart Lion and Grumpy Bear come down to Earth to help them, but are targeted by Beastly and Shreeky. They trap them in a cage, but don't reckon on the fact that while the cage can trap Brave Heart and Grumpy, the bars are too widely spaced to hold Wally. He just walks right through them and this is used as An Aesop that sometimes being small has its advantages.
  • In the villainous Le Quack's introductory episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog, Le Quack is arrested and cuffed with handcuffs so large they could fit around his entire body. He doesn't attempt an escape, though.
  • 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.
  • In Droids episode Coby and the Starhunters, a group of thieves capture Ingey, a rare small feline creature from the heroes and throw it in a cage. Said cage has bars spaced enough that Ingey could easily slink through, but doesn't.
  • Duckman: Seen in "Ride the High School" when King Chicken traps Duckman, Aunt Bernice, and Cornfed in a cage. Aunt Bernice seduces him with promises of forming a band. The entire time they are imprisoned, nobody questions the bar widths, even though the antagonist actually walks between the bars for a few scenes to prod Duckman.
  • In the Max Courage episode of Evil Con Carne, the kids are put in a cell resembling a medieval gate, with the gaps wide enough that the kids could crawl through them if they tried.
  • 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.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: 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.
  • Larry & Steve: At the pound, Steve's bars are clearly wide enough that he could squeeze through if he tried.
  • 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.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Twilight's Kingdom, Part 2" when Discord traps Twilight's friends and Spike in a cage. Even Pinkie Pie doesn't notice, putting it in the serious category.
  • Oh Yeah! Cartoons: In one 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.)
  • The Powerpuff Girls: In many episodes, the jail bars are clearly wide enough for the villains to escape through, yet they never attempt to do so.
  • 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.
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: The bars of the cage Sonic and Tails are trapped in during "Subterranean Sonic" are easily wide enough for the two of them to escape through.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In various episodes such as "Life of Crime", the bars in Bikini Bottom jail are wide enough for the characters to escape through. In "Employee of the month", SpongeBob actually escapes from a trap with these bars by sliding out sideways.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: "Mugato, Gumato": The bars on the cage that the Ferengi keep Mariner and Shaxs in are spaced wide enough that Mariner should be able to just walk through, and even Shaxs might be reasonably able to sidle out. As is usual with this trope, you're clearly not supposed to acknowledge it.
  • In the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Love Stinks", Calamity Coyote (currently tar and feathered to resemble a skunk) tries to catch Little Beeper with a robot that transforms into an metal cage, which of course backfires and not only traps him in the cage, but in the cage with the love struck Fifi La Fume. Just to add insult to injury, Little Beeper zips into the cage to quickly taunt him, showing that he can easily fit through the bars and unfortunately for Calamity Coyote, he cannot.
  • Wallykazam!: In "Victor the Villain", Victor traps Wally and his pet dragon Norville in a cage with bars spaced such that Norville (a small dragon) could probably at least escape from them.
  • Winnie the Pooh: The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh has an Imagine Spot episode that portrays the wild west and shows a jail cell that has bars wide enough to walk through and the characters actually do, but still don't think to escape this way. Of course, that's nothing compared to the fact that the jail cell didn't have a back wall.
  • Xiaolin Showdown: An especially egregious case where Dojo (prophesied to turn evil every 1,500 years or so) is locked inside a pet-carrier with just two bars. This might be enough for your average cat or dog, but Dojo has the rough dimensions of a garden hose, and at one point he cajoles Omi to slip some eggrolls through the bars, which are exactly as thin as he is. The bars might be magically enchanted to block him from escaping, given the setting being a world where magic artifacts exist.


Care Bears

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