A tv episode, (usually family) movie, or short story sets up a scenario where the "Well Done, Son!" Guy
either has the opportunity to please a certain father figure, or falls into a situation that assures that he loses his favour should he mis-step. The conflict within the scenario boils and then compounds itself until the "Well Done, Son!" Guy
does the exact thing (spills paint on the favoured family portrait, destroys his father's ship-bottle, squashes a wedding cake, danced the tango to his own version of the steps) that he had presumed the father figure didn't want him to do.
What reply does the father figure offer? Gratitude. Turns out, "Well Done, Son!" Guy
's role model is actually RELIEVED that he messed up whatever he wasn't supposed to.
Originally, the trope was a device meant to surprise the audience - getting them to root for the character as he does his darnedest to perform whatever the necessary duty without sacrificing his personality, friendship, or something that he cares about in the process, then horrifying/punishing them when all his efforts actually culminate in exactly the worst possible outcome, THEN surprising them delightfully when the mentor is actually pleased with the result.
Bonus points if the mentor caps his jubilee with a hidden/higher-minded Aesop - hopefully
the one upon which the entire plot was cleverly weaved around.
This trope has been used enough times that it's quite difficult to suspend the disbelief of the audience convincingly enough that the audience is lured into thinking that the "thank you" ISN'T coming. However, if a savvy-enough director allows the possibility of the scenario to go either way, he can still satisfactorially and pleasantly surprise his audience; however, if he plays it so that it could go either way, he quite often has to lower the stakes for the "Well Done, Son!" Guy
to keep the audience guessing - which leaves the audience to ask sensibly, "Do I care enough about the character to back them with hope?" This trope is hard to do well in the thoroughly-exposed minds of today's young viewers.
- The Princess Diaries has a quick, potent revealing of this trope during the banquet scene. Mia's childish habits, lack of manners at the table, and lack of understanding of Genovia's national palate culminate in the launching of a cluster of grapes onto the plate of the dignitary sitting one seat to the right of the Queen. The Queen holds her head, extremely disappointed and embarassed. The dignitary, however, considers the instance hysterical and bursts into laughter; all others at the table - including the Queen - join him, and the sobriety that hung in the air so thickly before this moment immediately dissipates afterwards.
- This example is interesting, because, though Mia is the heroine of our story, the "Well Done, Son!" Guy is first the Queen: Mia is merely the extension of her training quality and standards. Then, Mia becomes the "Well Done, Son!" Guy towards the Queen. This is beautiful and well-constructed, as the foundation of the movie is to ask what it is that makes someone/something royal, and if "royalty" as an indication of quality exists at all.
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey crowns itself with the unravelling of this trope after Bilbo faces the Pale Orc, distracting his pet wolf from a critically wounded Thorin Thorin at first appears to be reproving Bilbo for acting so hastily and apart from his Dwarven travellers, then pulls this trope into the light beneath all the implied hatred when Thorin gives Bilbo a hug and admits that all he had initially thought about Bilbo was fortunately incorrect.
- This is a poorer example: young and tender audiences will watch this moment and immediately wonder why Thorin is so upset that Bilbo saved his life, let alone the Genre Savvy. That being said, the moment does effectively lead to the movie's pleasant climax.
- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner also climaxes with probably one of the longest and most-strained example of this trope. "Well Done, Son!" Guy is Sidney Poitier's Dr. John Wayde Prentice and father figure is Spencer Tracy's Matt Drayton. This trope's sharp edge has found no better cut than in this movie: Dr. Prentice perfectly meets his father's requirements for a son-in-law, but there is one thing he needs to change in order to fully satisfy him: his race. Mr. Drayton's Heel Realization in the climax turns the ENTIRE MOVIE into this trope.
- All The Presidents Men has a subtle, sharp, even horrifying example right at the end of the movie. Those who aren't Genre Savvy or giving the movie their full attention may miss it.
- In the The Three Musketeers (1993) film adaption, Porthos, after giving Dartagnion a short list of the sins he committed during a duel, acknowledges that Dartagnion reminds him of himself after he kills a captain of the Cardinal's Guard. It doesn't last more than the moment, though, and he is chided by Arimus immediately after extending Dartagnion the praise.
Film - Animation
- The CGI film "The Empire Strikes Out", made by and of Lego, has a text-book example, after Darth Vader ruins something that he thought Darth Sidious cared very much about:
— Darth Sidious: (grimaces and looks at Darth Vader) Vader.
— Darth Vader: Oh-oh.
— Darth Sidious: Because of you, both my new Death Star AND Darth Maul are no more: (smiles) that's my boy!
- Buzz Lightyear of Star Command's flashback movie - The Adventure Begins - has an example, also straight from the text-book. The following exchange occurs between Captain Buzz Lightyear and the first-year rookie Mira Nova:
— Buzz: Ranger Nova, that's the most outrageous stunt I've ever seen!"
— Mira: Kind of reminds you of yourself, huh?
— Buzz: (thinks about it) Yeah, kinda . . . .