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The tagline for the movie should have been "You are a mean one, but not too mean, Mr. Grinch.".
Brad Jones in the Midnight Screenings review of the 2018 version of The Grinch
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Moral Guardians often get into a tizzy over any sort of naughty, nasty, or even questionable business portrayed in the media. After all, in their minds those kids will imitate anything they see on the screen. This tends to result in a world of clear-cut heroes and villains in media marketed as being "kid-friendly".

But villains are supposed to be evil, right? They can get away with doing all sorts of nasty things the moral guardians wouldn't approve of because they inevitably get what's coming to them in the end. But sometimes the guardians complain anyway, as if the viewers are too dumb to tell who's right and who's wrong. It's like they don't want the bad guys to be evil...

The result of this sort of thinking (if the writers don't tell the Moral Guardians to shove off) is typically Villain Decay or a Harmless Villain or Friendly Enemy who isn't actually shown doing bad things. Any attempt by the villains to do bad things will get foiled by the heroes with a minimum of fuss.

To be fair, one of the oldest ways of Getting Crap Past the Radar is to create a Magnificent Bastard who outsmarts everyone, is much cooler than the heroes, and lives a life of (vividly described) debauchery, but gets killed in the last five minutes. Then the creators appease the Moral Guardians by saying, "Hey, he loses. That proves that all the debauchery and lying we showed isn't something you root for." (Goes at least as far back as Don Giovanni.) After Moral Guardians realize they've been hoaxed this way, they become paranoid and assume that any villain who succeeds at all is a case of Getting Crap Past the Radar.

Fringe Christian groups seem to be fond of this, which is ironic when you consider that The Bible itself is just full of nasty villains (and heroes). To the point where the guy killing hundreds of them with a donkey's jawbone looks like Jimmy Stewart.

Villain who fall into this trope have a very high chance of being regarded as Draco in Leather Pants by fans.

See also Do Not Do This Cool Thing. When the Moral Guardians start to have a point expect to hear But It Really Happened!. When this is done to a Historical Domain Character, see Historical Villain Downgrade.

A priori not related to Even Evil Has Standards, which is when a villainous character can't be as villainous as another one, in-story.

Examples of But Not Too Evil include:


Anime and Manga

  • When 4Kids dubbed Shaman King, they left in a scene where 'Zeke' kicks Yoh in the head, much to the delight of fans who thought that this might be a sign that 4Kids was going to gradually stop Macekreing anime. The result was a massive outcry from parents against a villain actually kicking the hero in the head like that. (Although this may not have been helped by the fact that 'Zeke' was portrayed as a very Well-Intentioned Extremist.)
  • The Italian dubbers of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch apparently thought that, since Sara was really a princess and going to make a Heel Face Turn later on, that her Villain Song - which says that "love and dreams are an illusion" - should be replaced by something more heroic that says "have faith in the princesses and The Power of Love." Never mind that this is the complete opposite of what Sara believes, and that much of the first season is spent trying to convince her of it.

Comic Books

Radio

  • Hamish and AndyDuring a sketch about the idea about making a new version of Google maps called Google treasure maps that would be tailored specifically for pirates. The one of the pirates mentioned his intention of using the map to find a port were he could pillage and “inappropriately touch” women.


Literature

  • J. K. Rowling was attacked by some of the aforementioned fringe groups for having the recently-revealed villain Quirrell (or in the Film of the Book Voldemort himself) say "There is no such thing as good and evil, only power and those too weak to seek it." in Harry Potter.
  • This happened with the second book in A Series of Unfortunate Events: It was banned in one school because the villain says "Damn!" and "Hell!", and the really absurd part is that Snicket uses this as an occasion for an parody of overly moralistic children's authors about how swearing is something only a villain would do.
    • Daniel Handler eventually stated in an interview that he was deliberately trying to provoke this kind of thing, and was actually disappointed that he got so little attention compared to Harry Potter. His one real "victory" was the series being banned from a Georgia school due to Olaf trying to marry his own relative in the first book. After jokingly hinting at why southerners in particular would object to that plot point, he went on, "I'm at a loss for how to write a villain who doesn't do villainous things."
    • There was also some amount of scandal involved with the book when several Christian groups found out Daniel Handler was an atheist, and claimed that the book series would turn children into atheists.
  • Every villain in any of the Land of Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Baum talks about how evil and nasty they are and how they love being that way, but they're all talk and no show. In his sixth book, four teams of villains band together to make war on Oz in secret, but Ozma had three annoyingly convenient plot devices that put the kibosh on the war just seconds before it could happen. In his previous book, The Road to Oz, there is absolutely no conflict of villains at all. It may have been intentional because the prologues and epilogue of book six suggest that he really wished his fans would stop asking him to write the series.

Live Action TV

  • Let's not even get into Lord Zedd, one of the truly genuinely creepy villains in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, who got turned into an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain by the network after parents complained he was "too scary" for their kids.
    • Made especially jarring considering that the rangers' response to any monsters' crime is to blow them up (twice!). Heck, most monsters don't even get to commit a crime before being destroyed.
    • Similarly, the number of "bad guy" figures released in the series' accompanying toy line has diminished over the years; in Power Rangers' early days, a good handful of bad guy figures were released along with the Ranger figures, sold under their own name, but nowadays you'll be hard-pressed to find even one baddie among the sea of Ranger merchandise...and if you do, it's under the generic term of "Evil Space Alien". Who exactly the kids are supposed to play-fight with their Power Ranger action figures is a mystery.
      • Well, the ESA is USUALLY the cannon fodder for the series, so maybe Bandai of America expects kids to army build.
        • That would be a plausible explanation...if it wasn't for the fact that, past Power Rangers SPD, the only "Evil Space Alien" we ever get in toy form is either the main bad guy or one of his lieutenants (before, we got at least 1 main bad guy/lieutenant and 1 Mook), making it fairly hard to accurately army build.
  • An in-universe example (sort of): The Couch Gag of Que Vida Mas Triste is the actors (Not the characters) discussing show-related stuff. One of them is about Borja receiving mail from a feminist association denouncing him because his character treats women like sex objects. Except not only Borja Can't Get Away with Nuthin', his experiences with women usually end the worst. So, apparently, you can't be sexist against women, even if this is shown to be a bad thing. That, or the writers didn't think the joke very well.
  • Siegfried, the agent of KAOS who usually fought against Max Smart in Get Smart, definitely falls into this trope. Sure, he was "involved" in KAOS's schemes, but whenever he ran up against Max, the more common thing for them to do was trade commiserations about comparative health benefits, retirement benefits, and working conditions between KAOS and CONTROL, with each one trying to get the other to defect. Oh, and argue over whether KAOS or CONTROL's spy gadgets were better.

Professional Wrestling

  • Over the past several years, heels in World Wrestling Entertainment have been forced to tone down their behavior to the point that all but a few of them hardly seem worse than mere Jerkass status, and even appear unobjectionable compared to some of the faces of the Attitude Era. Often this will be taken to ridiculous extremes, with the heels portrayed as full-blown Dirty Cowards who are too afraid to attack anyone openly. Making insulting remarks regarding race or ethnicity has been generally forbidden since the mid-2000s. References to Satanism or the occult are a no-no (unless you're The Undertaker or Kane, since the former is a face and both benefit from the Grandfather Clause). It is still permissible to bully, threaten, or lecherously leer at a woman, but actually hitting a woman is blatantly crossing the Moral Event Horizon and isn't attempted except in the most serious of stories. (Sexist comments are generally okay, but only if the victim kicks the man's ass afterwards.) And while firearms are popular in almost every other entertainment medium, it's surprisingly very, very rare to see even the most violent villain in pro wrestling brandishing a gun. If you think about it, relying on this trope is quite counterproductive for wrestling, since trying to diminish a heel's level of evil will make it much more difficult for him to draw Cheap Heat.

Theater

  • William Shakespeare was a huge fan of the "he dies at the end so it's really a moral story" of Getting Crap Past the Radar, since he knew his audiences wanted to see sex and violence portrayed glamorously (and they did). In King Lear, he had Edmund, the gold standard of Magnificent Bastards. He deceived his father and godfather, ran his brother out of the kingdom so he could get the lands his father was going to leave him, and wound up with not one, but TWO of King Lear's daughters (the evil ones no less) head over heels for him (they killed each other over him), and was set to take over the entire kingdom, before he got defeated in the last five minutes... and died offstage, which Shakespeare had happen so the early fanfic writers could claim He's Just Hiding. Shakespeare knew that Evil Is Cool.
    • Same goes for Iago in Othello. He's a Magnificent Bastard that you can't help but to root for, especially since he gets most of the best lines in the entire play. Iago kills basically everyone who is a threat to his goal (which, after killing all those people, becomes kind of pointless) or has Roderigo or Cassio kill them. At the end of the play, when Iago gets arrested, he is likely killed off-stage. While all the characters died within the play itself, he is the only major character who is not killed during the play.
    • Richard III also has this. Richard actually says at the beginning of the play that he intends to try to be a villain and then gleefully kills his way to the English throne. Then, at the very end of the play, shortly before he is killed, he has a monologue where he mourns that no one will miss him when he dies.


Video Games

  • Given that, outside of amateur white supremacist video games, Nazis are universally portrayed as villains in video games, No Swastikas could almost be a subtrope of this.
  • Portal 2 has been attacked for using adoption as an insult when both users of the attack are the antagonists.
  • In Team Fortress 2 the Medic is a near-sociopathic mad doctor who considers healing people a mere side effect of curing his own morbid curiosity. But he's not a Nazi.
  • Inverted in the case of the Syndicate remake. Reviewers called out Starbreeze for throwing in a Heel Face Turn instead of letting you fully embrace the Villain Protagonist role of the originals.

Web Original

  • Parodied by Homestar Runner in one Strong Bad Email, where Strong Bad makes fun of an e-mailer known as "Nice Dad" who scolds him for "being mean" and tries to convince him to "point out why being mean isn't always the best choice".
    • More parodied in the High School Drama Club Production in the email. The Production portrays Head Male Cheerleader (Coach Z) and Marzipan at a party making (rather defanged) jibes at Strong Mad in the role of a stupid nerd. After the fun is made, the party's going great...until suddenly the gigantic muscular nerd comes back to bash everyone with a spiky club.
  • The Child Care Action Project will count points against a movie using it's WISDOM score system regardless of which characters perpetrate the wrongdoing, even or especially if it's the villain, and even if said villain is some unlikeable loser like Prince John from Disney's Robin Hood, who no child would want to emulate anyway.

Western Animation

  • As the quote at the top indicates, the Grinch in the 2018 animated movie is hit with this, being softened considerably compared to past portrayals of the character.
  • The outrage over the goosestepping hyenas in The Lion King. Apparently, this happens to Disney a lot.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Disney was forced to cut several minutes of footage (including most of the awesome Villain Song) in order to secure a General Release rating in Australia.
  • All the way back before any actual Transformers fiction was created, Hasbro representatives initially complained that the name "Megatron" sounded too dangerous, until reminded that the character was intended to be the Big Bad.
  • In early Veggie Tales, before DVD, "Rack, Shack, and Benny" retold a Biblical story of idolatry, replacing chocolate bunnies for the idol. "The Bunny Song" was bowdlerised, after parents complained, to replace references to neglecting parents, church, and school (shock and horror) with neglecting health food. Eventually, one of the singalong movies also included a rewritten parody "New & Improved Bunny Song", with distinctly non-evil lyrics ("I need to eat good food to help me to grow / I'll obey my mama, 'cause she loves me so"). The "New and Improved Bunny Song" is supposed to be what the villain sings after he has reformed, which he had to do because this is Veggie Tales. Spoofed at the same time, because the back up singers lyrics are unchanged, except now the bad guy scolds them for it. The original is only around at VHS quality, or lower.
  • According to Matt Groening, Bart Simpson was created out of his frustration with this trope; as he put it, the traditional brat in television was usually just a decently mannered kid who spoke too loud, in contrast to Bart's genuinely disruptive and anti-authority behavior.
    • Of course, back in the day Matt got what he wanted and more: when The Simpsons first began airing (and particularly during the first two seasons) Bart's behavior set off a firestorm of protests from angry parents' groups saying Bart was a terrible role model. Unlike many examples on this page, though, all this complaining was roundly ignored by the show's writers, who refused to change a thing. In fact, it inspired an episode where Marge stages a censorship campaign against Itchy and Scratchy. The campaign works, and I&S becomes incredibly bland and boring as a result.
    • Ironically, either through shifting culture or Villain Decay (probably a little of both), Bart can now be reasonably accurately described as a "decently mannered kid who speaks too loud".
      • Even in his heyday, Bart could almost be a subversion. While he genuinely enjoyed causing mayhem, most of his antics were more meant to drive authority figures crazy rather than cause any genuine harm. There were lines that even Bart wouldn't cross, and when he realized he went too far, he'd actually feel bad about it and try to make up for it.
  • In Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles, Big Bad Xanatos and his wife Fox got a really jarring Heel Face Turn and became complete saints (in the canon comics by the original creator, Greg Weisman, they do a much more natural semi-Heel Face Turn to become Anti Heroes, and even though they're now allies of the protagonists are still very morally grey and rather untrustworthy).

Other

  • The treatment many Neopets villains receive (and nearly all that aren't part of the regular character lineup). Goes hand-in-hand with the prevalent Villain Decay.
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