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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1998): 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 simple walk through.
- 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 My Little Pony: The Movie (2017), 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 Pirate King's minions.
- 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 title character breaks out of jail by slipping between the bars.
- 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.
- 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...
- 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 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.
- One of the many and humorous signs Raven's Cry is a Obvious Beta is a guy stuck in a prison cell that's literally half open.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Rusty and Co.: If the bars from the cells of the stadium's gaol may keep in a large, burly man like Malevolus, they look way too spread apart to hold in a pair of thin elves.
- 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 and Jake for it. They eventually add more bars while he stands and watches, powerless to stop them without his crown.
- 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.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Seen 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.
- In "Victor the Villain," on Wallykazam!, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- An especially egregious case in Xiaolin Showdown, 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 egg-rolls through the bars, which are exactly as thin as he is.
- 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 though 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.